Purpose: Quality and patient safety deficiencies have increased demand for quality improvement (QI) specialists in health care. Capstone projects and other practicum experiences provide opportunities for hands-on application of classroom learning, expose students to interprofessional work in a team-based environment, and help bridge quality gaps. A systematic process for matching health care delivery students to QI projects was developed and implemented to replace a first-come, first-served student sign-up process. The goal was to improve the quality of the match and the overall capstone experience.

Methods: Twenty-six graduate students enrolled in a capstone research course and assigned to health care QI capstone projects reflected on their site experiences in 6 journal entries. A total of 156 journal entries were analyzed using standard open coding procedures to understand the factors influencing student perceptions of the quality of the capstone project match and the implications of a systematic approach for matching student to site.

Results: Three key themes emerged in the journals: (1) A “successful” QI capstone match, as defined by the student, is multidimensional and includes both technical and emotional factors; (2) “If you are not visible, they will forget about you;” and (3) Students want meaningful capstone projects with potential for broad impact.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that emotional factors, such as feeling supported and accepted at the site, influence student perception of the capstone match and should be considered when orchestrating quality improvement experiential learning. Further, a systematic matching process that utilizes behavioral interviewing, student input regarding project preferences, strong community partnerships, and academic program support contributes to rich learning opportunities and high-quality work that benefits student and capstone site. These findings may be of value to administrators, educators, and practitioners who orchestrate experiential learning for students.