Clinical Nurse Leader

What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

The clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a newer nursing specialty that was first developed to prepare exceedingly skilled nurses who are focused on improving quality and safety outcomes for patient populations. CNLs are registered nurses with a master's level educations. They work alongside a team of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists to develop quality improvement strategies, help plan and coordinate patient care, assess health risks, implement evidence-based solutions, and facilitate team communication. CNLs shouldn't be confused with Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS). Where CNSs have advanced knowledge and clinical skills in a niche area of nursing, CNLs have advanced and broad knowledge in the field of medicine and often manage, advise, and counsel nursing staff while acting as a resource for the wider healthcare team.

What Are Some Clinical Nurse Leader Duties?

Job tasks that are carried out by clinical nurse leaders (CNLs) may include:

  • Creating, coordinating, implementing, and assessing the delivery of care for individuals and patient populations
  • Collaborating with other members of the interdisciplinary healthcare team
  • Providing leadership
  • Designing and implementing evidence-based solutions to improve patient care as well as patient outcomes
  • Leveraging resources
  • Carrying out risk assessments and analyses
  • Managing nursing staff
  • Providing direct patient care and patient education as needed
  • Employing technology and information systems to improve healthcare outcomes
  • Advocating for patients and communities
  • Acting as a knowledge resource for the interdisciplinary healthcare team

Where Do Clinical Nurse Leaders Work?

As advanced nurses, CNLs can work in a variety of medical settings. Common CNL employers include:

  • Private clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Consulting firms
  • Research facilities
  • Private clinics
  • Acute care facilities
  • Educational institutions

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

Individuals who are considering a career as a clinical nurse leader should be problem-solvers with strong critical thinking abilities. They should be truly motivated to make a difference in the healthcare outcomes of patient populations. Dissimilar to other leadership positions in the nursing field, CNLs are patient-facing, so they should be excellent communicators and should enjoy interacting with both patients, fellow nurses, and other healthcare staff.

Step 1: Educational Requirements

Do Clinical Nurse Leaders Need an RN Degree?

Not only are clinical nurse leaders required to hold an active and unencumbered RN license in addition to having some experience in the field, but they also need an MSN in Clinical Nurse Leadership to be eligible for the clinical nurse leader certification.

Step 2: Required Clinical Nurse Leader Certification / Credentials

The overwhelming majority of clinical nurse leader positions require candidates to have obtained their Clinical Nurse Leader Certification which can be acquired through the American College of Colleges of Nursing's Commission on Nurse Certification which is an arm of the AACN.

To be eligible to take the 140 multiple-choice question clinical nurse leader certification exam, candidates are required to have the following:

  • Possess a BSN degree
  • Possess an active and unencumbered RN license
  • Have graduated from a clinical nurse leader master's degree or post master’s degree program

CNLs are required to renew their certification every 5 years.

Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs, Salary & Employment

The clinical nurse leader represents a newly emerging and increasingly important advanced nursing role. For the foreseeable future, it isn't difficult to tell that there will be a significant demand for CNLs who will assist in improving patient safety as well as patient outcomes while at the same time enacting cost-efficiency measures and important leadership for nursing institutions.

Job Description & Information

  • Essential Skills Needed - Excellent interpersonal communication skills, strong problem-solving abilities, leadership, critical thinking and expert decision-making skills, risk anticipation, ability to manage people, collaborative and team building skills, ability to cope effectively with change, strong ethical sense, cultural competence, and professional values
  • Job Outlook - The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job openings for RNs to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024. It's likely that job openings for clinical nurse leaders will increase at a similar rate in the same timeframe.

What Is the Average Salary of a Clinical Nurse Leader?

According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a CNL is approximately $76,000, but this figure ranges between $52,000 and $107,000. Factors that will greatly influence the salaries of CNLs include things like educational credentials, years of clinical experience, the geographical location of employment, and the employing organization. The same factors will play in a role in the employee benefits packages that CNLs will receive from their employers. Most CNLs, however, will receive employee benefits packages which include medical, vision, dental, and more. Most employers will also provide CNLs with some paid time off each year - usually a few weeks.

How Much Do Clinical Nurse Leaders Make per Year?

  • $52,000 – $107,000 annually

How Much Do Clinical Nurse Leaders Make per Hour?

  • $35.25 average hourly wage

Clinical Nurse Leader Resources