Document Type (Journals)

Educational Innovations


The occupational therapy doctorate degree requires a capstone experience and project to be completed within a specific occupational therapy (OT)-related setting. The doctoral capstone experience and project can be difficult to complete in the highly specialized Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This paper provides a sample outline of the doctoral capstone experience and project in the NICU. The NANT Core Competencies, written by the National Association of Neonatal Therapists Professional Collaborative, were utilized as a guideline to track student progress and ensure understanding of neonatal therapy topics. This paper follows one student’s doctoral capstone experience and project in the NICU while mentored by an occupational therapist. Learning objectives related to utilizing the NANT Core Competencies, gaining clinical skills, and participating in program development were created. The site mentor trained, supported, and educated the student in the NICU while monitoring her progress during the fourteen weeks. Overall, the student successfully completed all objectives. This paper provides an example of the doctoral capstone experience and project in the NICU utilizing the NANT Core Competencies to support the mentor-student relationship and student learning with educational topics provided in the competencies guiding the capstone experience. With details including student progress, weekly mentor-student meetings, and roles/responsibilities of the student and mentor, this paper serves as a resource and guideline for OT faculty as well as potential mentors of occupational therapy doctorate students in the NICU setting. Additionally, this paper highlights the feasibility of the completion of the OT doctoral capstone in the NICU.


Dr. Kate N. de Castro Mehrkens works as an occupational therapist at Atrium Health Floyd with concentration in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Through this role, she has also earned certifications in lactation counseling and as an infant massage instructor. She earned her Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) from Duquesne University in 2021 and focused her capstone project on research and clinical skills related to increasing positive sensory experiences for preterm infants in the NICU. She uses these skills in her current role to facilitate mentorship, program development, quality improvement, and academia-related endeavors.

Dr. Taylor Bateman is a new graduate occupational therapist and member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and National Association of Neonatal Therapists (NANT). She earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan State University in 2020 and Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) from Brenau University in 2023. She completed her doctoral capstone project and experience in the NICU where she gained clinical experience and developed programs and policies with the goal of improving the carryover of neuroprotective care. She hopes to continue her work in the NICU in a future role as a NICU occupational therapist.

Declaration of Interest

The author reports no declaration of interest

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.