Capstone Projects

Accelerating the pace of impact

Path of Excellence capstone projects can take all forms. They range from research projects to publications, from dual degrees to starting a company. There are really no limits to how these projects are designed. Path of Excellence capstone projects generally begin during the third year and are completed by graduation, however the groundwork for these projects can be laid well before the Branches begin.

Each Path of Excellence capstone project must produce one of the following outcomes:

  • Written summary of the goals, background, methods, results and dissemination plans;
  • Paper submission for scholarly dissemination;
  • Arts submission (poem, artwork, short story), professional presentation or significant contribution on a committee or grand rounds;
  • Completion of a degree-granting program (MBA, MPH, PhD) and a specific activity or project related to their Path. This can be an assignment or thesis in the dual degree program, or completed during medical school.

Above all, the Path of Excellence capstone project should reflect the student’s interest in the field of study.

Here's a sampling of some recently completed capstone projects in the Global Health & Disparities Path — our longest running Path:

Project #1: Measuring depression levels in cancer patients

Path: Global Health & Disparities Path

Student: Stephen Lichtenstein, Class of 2017

Type of capstone: Research project

“Previous studies have shown that rates of depression among cancer patients are higher than in the general population. In Latin America, social support and social undermining are important, though understudied, factors in a patient’s mental health status. For my capstone project, I worked as part of an established research team that assessed depression levels in a population of patients at a cancer hospital in Quito, Ecuador. We examined the association between depression, social support and social undermining over a two-month period through a computerized screening process.

“We found that high depression scores were associated with low levels of social support and high levels of social undermining. Higher depression scores were associated with female gender, low education status and unemployment. The result is that social support and social undermining are important factors in a cancer patient’s depression status and that computer-tablet based screening is a cost-effective, rapid, and efficient method to identify patients with major depression who should be targeted for therapy.

“In addition to writing a paper and adding a publication to my residency application, I was able to practice my Spanish in a health care setting.”

Project #2: Making a difference for women’s health

Path: Global Health & Disparities Path

Student: Sara Bell, Class of 2017

Type of capstone: Research project

Mentor(s): Dr. Jason Bell

“I wanted to conduct an obstetrics research project in sub-Saharan Africa because I spent several years working abroad before starting medical school. Michigan's OB/Gyn department has a great relationship with Ethiopia so it was a perfect fit for my capstone project comparing approaches for treating sexually transmitted infections. I conducted my research on site at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa.

“My project had a lot of data, but my advisor helped me throughout the process, which made it more manageable and less daunting. It was an amazing learning experience. Even though it seems like it could be overwhelming, my Path advisors did a wonderful job of guiding me through my capstone project.

“I learned so much about Michigan's IRB and the process of doing research in a foreign country. I also had the chance to live in Ethiopia for 10 weeks and work alongside the wonderful health care staff at St. Paul’s.

“I am applying for residency in OB/Gyn, and am interested in continuing to do international clinical and research work in the future. My capstone project was totally aligned with and reinforced my career goals.”

Project #3: Updating patient education materials with the user in mind

Path: Global Health & Disparities Path

Student: Olivia Killeen, Class of 2017

Capstone type: Research project

Mentor(s): Dr. Paula Newman-Casey, Dr. Brent Williams, Dr. Joseph Kolars

“One of the challenges in effectively treating glaucoma is getting patients to comply with their prescribed medication protocol. For my capstone project, I helped design and test an educational intervention guide to improve glaucoma medication adherence. We focused our research on updating the eyeGuide, a prototype tailored behavior change program, with input from glaucoma patients themselves on best practices for improving medication adherence among glaucoma patients.

“For my research, we surveyed 21 glaucoma patients age 40 years and older. The group selected to participate was representative of the general glaucoma patient population. We conducted interviews with the patients, which helped us identify five key themes for improving glaucoma self-management: social support, patient-provider relationship, medication routine, the patient’s beliefs about disease and treatment, and eye drop instillation.

“This information, along with patient testimonials, was used to refine the content of the eyeGuide and transform it from a web-based module to a printed brochure [handout?]. This new user-centered design would not have been possible without patient input and approval.

“I loved the opportunity to learn more about ophthalmology while engaging in a project that had implications for health disparities. As my capstone project was built on a summer research project, process fit in nicely with my regular work. The capstone experience provided me with a framework to make my research even more relevant to my career goals.”

Project #4: Providing emergency care in a limited-resource setting

Path: Global Health & Disparities Path

Student: Chelsea Tafoya, Class of 2017

Capstone type: Research project

Mentor(s): Dr. Dan Clauw and Dr. Rockefeller Oteng

“I am conducting a clinical trial in Kumasi, Ghana to see whether ultrasound training and initiating an ultrasound scanning protocol for patients presenting to the emergency department with shortness of breath or shock will lead to improved diagnostic accuracy and patient outcomes.

“This project perfectly combines four things I have become passionate about during medical school: emergency medicine, ultrasound, clinical research, and global health. I plan to go into emergency medicine and complete a fellowship in international emergency medicine and/or ultrasound, so it is very relevant to my future aspirations.

“The capstone project process has been very flexible in allowing me to work on a project that fits within the scope of my interests and schedule. By working on a project in more than just a superficial way, I feel much more competent conducting a research study and addressing the unique challenges that come from doing that research in a developing country.”