December 5, 2022

What is a Clinical Nurse Leader and What Degree Should I Pursue?

The Clinical Nurse Leader is an emerging role in nursing careers that has been developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The Clinical Nurse Leader is the professional responsible for the design, implementation and evaluation of client care. CNL’s coordinate, delegate and supervise care that is provided by a healthcare team at a clinical level rather than the administrative level with other nursing leadership roles. These nursing leaders use evidence-based practice to provide their patients with the best care and with use of the latest advances in care delivery. CNL’s work with teams of physicians, social workers, pharmacists and nurse practitioners in order to plan and implement the most effective and efficient medical care.

What are some of the responsibilities of a CNL?

The following responsibilities routinely fall to clinical nurse leaders:

  • Mentoring to nursing staff
  • Providing collaborative care for patients
  • Establishing and managing a healthy working environment
  • Collecting and evaluating patient risks, outcomes, and care
  • Coordinating direct care activities in nursing staff
  • Providing integration of healthcare services

What are the Statistics for Careers as CNL in Healthcare Management?

Because Clinical Nurse Leaders are a relatively new in nursing roles, up-to-date statistics regarding CNL salary expectations are not readily available, however according to a recent study by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a large volume of current jobs that are available to nurses with advanced degrees relevant to the percentage of nurses who actually hold those degrees is staggering. Only 12 percent of current nurses have a master’s degree providing a huge need for leadership within the field. The median annual wage for registered nurses was $65,470 in May 2012 with the lowest 10 percent earning $45,040 and the top 10 percent earning more than $94,720. Those with advanced degrees including Masters in CNL can expect to earn significantly more.

Do I Need a Master’s Degree for a Career as a CNL?

Because a CNL must maintain a high level of clinical competence and knowledge to the nursing team, Graduate education is necessary. Key components of a CNL program include a liberal background in the arts and sciences, professional values, core competencies, core knowledge, and role development. Graduates of clinical nurse leader programs will be skilled in clinical leadership for a specific practice setting. Clinical nurse leader programs prepare graduates in the following core competencies:

  • Interdisciplinary Team Care
  • Quality Improvement
  • Patient Centered Care
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • To Utilize Informatics

Clinical nurse leadership programs build on the direct-care nursing skills that have been developed in undergraduate degree program. Graduate degree curriculum focuses on policy and organization, outcomes management, nursing leadership, and care management.

What is Clinical Nurse Leader Certification

After completing an accredited CNL program and clinical experience, a CNL can sit for the AACN Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Certification examination. To qualify for CNL certification applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a current RN license in the United States
  • Graduate from a master’s program (or higher) from an institution accredited by a nursing school accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and that prepares students with the competencies defined by the AACN
  • Completion of a minimum of 400 clinical hours (in a formal CNL education program)
  • Completion of a minimum of 300 clinical hours in a clinical immersion experience in the CNL role