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Guide to Practicum Success for College of Nursing Students

It is critical to students’ successful practicum experiences that they thoroughly and completely review the Walden University College of Nursing Practicum Manual, designated for their program and specialty area, in their first term and throughout their program. Walden provides guidelines for identifying an appropriate preceptor and practicum site, and the manuals outline the practicum application submittal resources necessary to begin the practicum process.

Preparing early is critical to practicum success. It is highly recommended that students work with the Office of Field Experience to start the search process for a field site and preceptor early in the program, as it can take a significant amount of time to identify a preceptor and field site and complete the application process. Eligible students who would like to partner with a Field Placement Coordinator to be matched with a preceptor and practicum site through the Practicum Pledge™ service must begin the process early in their program to complete the registration requirements by the deadline.  


Walden’s program directors, director of field experience, specialization coordinators, field experience coordinators, field placement coordinators, practicum course faculty members, and Clinical Instructors are committed to working collaboratively with students and preceptors to support the successful completion of practicum experiences. 

College of Nursing Practicum Process Summary

  • The process of selecting a site for placement begins with the student identifying a practicum site and initiating contact with a potential preceptor who meets the knowledge, education, skill, and certification qualifications necessary to support the outcomes, as outlined in each field experience (i.e., practicum) course. Because Walden students are located around the world, students have the flexibility to identify sites and nominate preceptors based on their region or location.
  • Most students should have their first preceptor nominee and a practicum site identified by the middle of their second term. 
  • Students should keep in mind that they are taking multiple courses that focus on different Learning Outcomes and may need several different preceptors and sites over the course of their program.
  • A completed practicum application must be submitted via Meditrek® by the practicum application deadline date for each term.
  • Walden’s policy on practicum sites and preceptors is aligned with the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education’s (CCNE) Key Element II-B Standard (2018), which states that “the program is responsible for ensuring adequate physical resources and clinical sites. Clinical sites are sufficient, appropriate, and available to achieve the program’s mission, goals, and expected outcomes” (p. 10). Further, it is Walden’s policy to ensure adequate physical resources and clinical sites by collaborating with students, preceptors, and administrators to support the successful completion of each student’s program of study, including the field experience and clinical placements.

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. (2018). Standards for accreditation of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs: Key element II-B standard. CCNE.

Finding a Practicum Site and Preceptor

Students should read this manual and refer to the practicum application resources on the Office of Field Experience website to begin the practicum process. Walden provides guidelines for how to identify preceptors and practicum sites. Because Walden students are located around the world, they have the flexibility to identify sites based on their region/location. To begin the process, students identify a practicum site and initiate contact with a potential preceptor who meets the qualifications and may be interested in working with them.

Students are encouraged to start the search to identify field sites and possible preceptors at least three terms before the beginning of their practicum courses, as it takes time for Walden to negotiate Affiliation Agreements with sites and to review qualifications of potential preceptors. Students should notify the Office of Field Experience of their identified preceptor nominees and practicum sites early in their program. Students are also strongly encouraged to identify alternative practicum sites and preceptor nominees as back-ups and submit application prior to application deadline, to increase their opportunity for placement during the students’ desired term and to avoid academic delay. A completed application must be submitted via Meditrek® by the practicum application deadline date.

Note: Students must submit their applications in Meditrek® for the applications to be reviewed and processed. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed and may delay practicum placement and academic progress.

Tips for Practicum Site and Preceptor Search

Identifying a practicum site and preceptor can be as intensive as a job search. The following tips are recommended for students when they are beginning the search process. Students should:

  • Contact Career Services to update their résumés and cover letters with a focus on finding a practicum field site. Career Services can also provide mock interviews to prepare students for speaking with potential preceptors. Please visit the Career Planning and Development website for more information. Contact the education department of possible field sites within their area or region.
  • Review the field site list in Meditrek®. Instructions to access the field site list are located on the Office of Field Experience website. This is a list of field sites that Walden University College of Nursing students have used in the past. A facility’s listing on this site does not guarantee that the site will be able to accommodate a student or that an active Affiliation Agreement is on file, but it is a good place to start.
  • Use their professional and personal network to make connections. Develop a profile on professional networks (e.g., LinkedIn) to network; research field sites; connect with colleagues, alumni of Walden, and a variety of other professional nursing related groups.
  • Research professional nursing associations and organizations to find preceptor resources.
  • Contact their state board of nursing to see if they have a list of available preceptors or resources.
  • Schedule an appointment with their regional nursing field experience coordinator or field experience coordinator to discuss other tips and ideas for securing a preceptor and field site. Students can schedule an appointment online. Please keep in mind that the field experience coordinator cannot place students at a site but may offer further advice or assistance for students.
  • Schedule an appointment with their program coordinator (see contact information). Program coordinators cannot place students at a site but may be able to offer suggestions or assistance to identify potential preceptors or practicum sites.
  • Attend a Field Experience Roundtable Session to learn more about the process.

Identifying a Site

“Identifying” a practicum site and a preceptor means that the student has received confirmation from a site and preceptor that the site is willing to host the practicum and the preceptor is willing to supervise the student in the practicum experience during a specific term.

Student considerations when identifying a practicum site:

  • Availability for the desired term
  • Opportunity to advance knowledge and area of specialization
  • Patient population and area of expertise
  • Specific Learning Objectives for the practicum experience
  • Ability of the site to provide a variety of advanced learning experiences
  • Opportunity to enhance leadership/professional skills

Students may complete the practicum where they work (e.g., hospital, nursing home, health organization, clinic, health department, or other health-related organization); however, the experience must be:

  • In a different setting than their usual assigned employment role or work area(s)
  • Completed outside of their normal working hours
  • Under the direction of a preceptor who is not their immediate supervisor and who does not report to them

Note: Students’ employment at their nominated field site does not guarantee that an Affiliation Agreement can be reached between Walden University and the site. Regardless of employment status, an Affiliation agreement and onboarding are required for all field sites. Students who wish to conduct their practicum at their place of employment should be aware that that loss of employment during their practicum may interfere with their ability to complete their required practicum hours.

The practicum cannot be completed in a college of nursing or other nursing education setting (except in an education department in a hospital), or in a private care or private home setting.

Identifying a Preceptor

Students must identify a potential preceptor and determine if the individual is interested in working with them. If so, students must find out whether this individual meets the qualifications to serve as preceptor and if the preceptor is available for the desired term. Students should contact the nursing field experience coordinators as soon as they identify a possible preceptor, and no later than the start of their second term, to determine if the preceptor and site meet the requirements. Students should evaluate potential preceptors early by emailing to obtain feedback about whether the nominee is an acceptable preceptor.

Walden discourages students from paying preceptors, practicum sites, or site placement agencies, due to conflicts of interest that can arise.

Preceptor Requirements

The preceptor must be involved in healthcare or have experience and expertise in the practice setting relevant to the student’s area of interest. Additionally, the preceptor must currently work in a role consistent with the students’ goals for the practicum experience. Doctoral education is preferred; however, some other form of graduate education may be acceptable if the preceptor’s experience and responsibility are clearly related to the student’s practicum goals (e.g., a senior administrator for a student interested in leadership and management).

Note: It is not always necessary that the preceptor be a professional nurse or have the DNP or PhD credential. When the DNP student’s areas of expertise a more interdisciplinary focus, the preceptor may, for example, be an industry leader, a policymaker, a physician, or an informatics specialist. However, the preceptor must still hold a graduate degree.

The preceptor should not be providing direct patient care. The student may work with a clinician as a preceptor, but solely when the student’s experience and the preceptor’s supervision will be focused on organizational change. Examples include focusing on system issues; organizational or healthcare delivery changes; technology in healthcare; workflow and process improvement in the healthcare setting; etc.

Prior to approval, the nominated preceptor’s licensure and certification (if applicable) are verified and reviewed by the Office of Field Experience. The program director gives final approval of preceptor nominees. Approval of the preceptor is based on the following criteria:

  • A licensed, credentialed nurse with a minimum of an earned MSN degree (a doctoral degree is preferred) from an accredited university or the international equivalent of same.

There may be situations when a practicing nurse with appropriate credentials and/or expertise in the student’s identified area is not available. If that situation occurs, then another health-related non-nurse individual with expertise and credentials that align with the area of student goals and objectives and practicum course Learning Outcomes could serve in the preceptor role if the individual has a graduate degree.

  • Demonstrates experience and current position in the area needed for guidance, support, and mentorship in the achievement of the student’s goals and objectives
  • Demonstrates a commitment to provide the student with experience in their area of interest
  • Is employed at the field site where practicum takes place
  • The preceptor nominee is not the student's relative, family member, fiance, roommate, significant other, personal friend, primary care provider, is not the student's direct or immediate supervisor, does not report directory to the student, or does not have any other relationship that would create an actual or perceived conflict of interest.
  • Is not the student’s direct or immediate supervisor and does not report to the student
  • Is not a nurse educator working in the capacity of a nurse educator for an institution of nursing education (However, the preceptor may be in an education department at a hospital, if the preceptor is in a supervisory role and/or focused on patient and nursing staff education.)
  • Must not be another DNP student
  • Has a minimum of 1-year experience in area of specialization, and the 1-year experience is based upon the original date of licensure for a licensed practitioner 

Important Note: If it is found that a student’s preceptor is a supervisor, direct report, relative, family member, fiancé, roommate, significant other, personal friend, primary care provider of the student, or any other relationship that would be considered a conflict of interest, the practicum hours will be rejected and not counted toward the practicum hour requirement. If a student utilizes a preceptor inappropriately, as noted above, this may lead to an academic integrity violation that could result in a sanction up to and including dismissal from the university. Students are responsible for nominating preceptors that fully meet all requirements for preceptors.

The student may have the same preceptor for each practicum course, but this is not required.

Note: Approval of the preceptor must occur prior to the student starting any practicum course and logging hours. Students cannot begin logging practicum hours until their practicum application is fully approved, they have been registered for the course, and the course/term has started.

Students Enrolled in the Executive Leadership Track

Students enrolled in the Executive Leadership practicums, NURS 8504 and NURS 8505, should find preceptors that have senior leadership positions or system-wide administrative responsibilities which may be responsibilities such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), chief information officer (CIO), vice president for nursing, vice president for healthcare systems, Divisional Directors, Administrative Directors, etc. Students should identify the person or persons who can assist them in collaborating with executives and leaders across various healthcare disciplines who have responsibilities for guiding change in the healthcare systems. Students in the Executive Leadership track practicums should not select preceptors with only unit responsibilities, such as a nurse manager.

Finding a Site and Preceptor for NURS 8600/8601

In order to find a suitable site and preceptor, students should follow these guidelines:

  • Students should identify a site and initiate contact with a potential preceptor who meets the qualifications and may be interested in working with them.
  • The NURS 8600/8601 field site may be the same field site that students use for their DNP practicum but cannot be an education setting (such as, a school of nursing), and the preceptor cannot be a nurse Faculty educator
  • The NURS 8600/8601 preceptor may be the DNP practicum preceptor only if students are not enrolled in NURS 8600/8601 at the same time as their DNP practicum courses. If students wish to enroll in NURS 8600/8601 concurrently with a DNP practicum course, then they must have a different person as their NURS 8600/8601 preceptor.
  • See the “Preceptor Requirements” section for other requirements for preceptors. 
Identifying a Site

NURS 8600/8601 is equivalent to the master’s clinical hours transferred into the program for the minimum 1,000-hour requirement; therefore, the field experience is not required to be at the doctoral level. Students should consider their career goals after graduation and try to match their NURS 8600/8601 field experience site and preceptor to those career goals. To integrate their education with experience, students must have an opportunity to apply their acquired knowledge, concepts, and skills within the context that they hope to practice as DNP-prepared nurses. To do this, students may need to travel to a setting other than their own practice setting.

Students may complete the practicum where they work (e.g., hospital, nursing home, health organization, university health department, or other health-related organization); however, the experience must be:

  • In a different setting than their usual assigned employment role or work area(s)
  • Completed outside of their normal working hours
  • Under the direction of a preceptor who is not their immediate supervisor and who does not report to them
  • Separate from DNP practicum course hours

Note: The NURS 8600/8601 field experience cannot be completed in a school of nursing or other nursing education setting or in a private care or private home setting. See additional information for identifying a site and preceptor.

Also Note: Students should follow the process  for completing and submitting a practicum application in Meditrek® for NURS 8600/8601 (see Practicum Application and Approval Process).

Change of Preceptor—Replacement Preceptor

Because circumstances change, sometimes students need to change preceptors before or during their practicum course. If a student’s preceptor becomes unavailable for any reason before or during the practicum, the student is required to notify the Office of Field Experience to determine possible options. If a replacement preceptor is required and time allows, it will require a new replacement application. If the new preceptorship will be at a new practicum site, then a new Affiliation Agreement may also be needed. Depending on the timing before the term begins or during the term, there may not be enough time to process a replacement application, Affiliation Agreement, and onboarding, which may delay the practicum experience until a later term. If the waitlist is closed, late applications may not be accepted.  Students must receive practicum application approval in Meditrek® for any change of preceptor prior to logging practicum hours.  Practicum hours completed prior to application approval will NOT be allowed to count toward the practicum course requirements.

Note: Practicum hours completed under a preceptor other than the preceptor who was identified in a practicum application submitted by the student will be rejected and students will be required to repeat the hours. Failure to notify the Office of Field Experience and assigned Faculty, as stated above, will result in a Code of Conduct inquiry and may result in disciplinary action, including course failure and permanent dismissal from the university. For more information about the Code of Conduct, please refer to the Walden University Student Handbook, Code of Conduct.

Supplemental Preceptors

Students may need additional preceptors in order to meet all of the requirements for the course, including logging all the required hours and/or patients. If students need to precept with multiple preceptors to meet the course requirements, then they have an option to nominate another person as their supplemental preceptor, provided the supplemental preceptor nominee fulfills the requirements. When students complete their practicum application, they must provide a fully completed application for both their preceptor nominee and their supplemental preceptor nominee. Applications for supplemental preceptor nominees should be submitted as early as possible. However, applications are accepted during the quarter if students need a supplemental preceptor during the quarter to meet the required practicum hours. Applications for supplemental preceptors go through the same review process as other applications.

Example reasons for supplemental preceptors:

  • A preceptor may not see enough patients in the students’ population or specialty for the student to log the required practicum hours and patients. In this instance, a supplemental preceptor may be submitted by the student to obtain enough hours for the course requirements.
  • During the course, the student may not be able to log enough hours with the preceptor to meet the course requirements. In this instance, a supplemental preceptor may be submitted by the student to obtain enough hours for the course requirement.