First off, what is a Clinical Nurse Leader Degree?
If you are a natural leader who has a strong head on your shoulders than you might make a fantastic clinical nurse leader. A clinical nurse leader is the head of a group of nurses in a clinical setting.
Part of the clinical nurse leader (CNL) job is to evaluate the success of treatment, advance patient care, and improve patient outcomes in clinical care. Then as a CNL you would determine based on evidence the best ways to improve treatment in the healthcare setting.
CNLs differ from advanced nursing specialists as they are required to have a general understanding of medicine rather than a very specialized understanding of one field of medicine. This generalized understanding is crucial to helping all of the other nurses on staff as well as the patients.
As a clinical nurse leader you are also in charge of the entire “continuum of care” from the moment a patient is admitted to the moment they transition to a new location or back home. Strong leadership skills are crucial.
Take a look at a list of duties and skills performed by the CNL as described by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- Team Leadership
- Communication With Nursing Staff
- Strong General Knowledge of Medicine
- Coordination of Care
- Measuring Outcomes
- Care Through The Continuum
- Assessing Risk
- Using Evidence to Implement Best Practice
- Improve the Quality of Nursing in the Healthcare Facility
As you can see, being successful as a CNL requires a number of soft and hard skills. Fortunately, the position pays very well and following a path to become a CNL will be both personally and monetarily rewarding. Are you ready to pursue a career as a CNL? Take a look at the path you might follow to get certified as a CNL.
How Do I Become a Clinical Nurse Leader?
If you are looking to pursue a career as a clinical nurse leader, you will need a master’s degree and you will need to pass the CNL exam.
Many clinical nurse leaders begin their career as a registered nurse or registered professional nurse and then head back to school to get a master’s degree (MS) in clinical nursing with a specialization in clinical nurse leadership. There are many routes in toward a degree in clinical nursing. Let’s take a look at a few pathways towards this advanced career.
How to Become a CNL Starting With an Associate’s Degree
If you have an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) then you can take one of two paths. You can enter into a BSN program and then complete that along with an MSN program with a specialization in CNL. Or you can enrolled in a program known as an RN to MSN program which has an emphasis on CNLs. From there you should pass the CNL exam given by the Commission on Nurse Certification.
How to Become a CNL Starting With a Bachelor’s Degree
For individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree, you will need to head back to school to obtain your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). As we mentioned above, check for programs that offer a specialization as a certified nursing leader (CNL). From there you will need to take and pass the CNC’s certificate for CNLs.
How to Become a CNL Starting With a Master’s Degree
If you already have a master of science in nursing and are looking to change directions to become a CNL then you should enroll in a post-MSN CNL program and then pass the CNL exam.
What Do I Study in a Clinical Nurse Leader Degree Program?
If you are ready to make the leap and start studying to pursue a career as a CNL then great. There’s a lot on a CNL’s plate particularly when it comes to medical knowledge. As we mentioned earlier CNLs must have a general understanding of medicine in order to communicate effectively with their patients and the other nurses on staff. Additionally, a CNL will need to be up-to-date on best practices to ensure that patients receive optimum care. In other words, you are studying to become a master nurse!
Example Curriculum for a Specialization in Clinical Nurse Leadership
- Statistics for Evidence-Based Practice
- Physiology Across the Lifespan
- Advanced Pharmacology
- Disease Preventions in Diverse Populations
- Providing Quality Healthcare
- Finance and Economics for Health Care Leaders
- Diagnosis Across the Lifespan
- Leadership Techniques
- Educating in a Clinical Setting
- Intro to Health Infomatics
- Contemporary Issues in Nursing Practice
- Your Rolse as a CNL
- Practicum 1
- Practicum 2
As you can see this program has a strong focus on nursing and on managerial skills. To become certified, students must participate in 400 supervised hours of practicum. Many programs culminate with a comprehensive exam.
- Diagnosis Across the Lifespan
- Team Management
The Three Components According to The AACN
The AACN is responsible for creating the role of the CNL they why of which we discuss in further detail further along. In order to meet the demands of the role the AACN insists that all programs include components to the curriculum from each of these three categories.
Master’s Graduate Nursing Core
Direct Care Core
CNL Role Competencies and Clinical Expectations
The AACN further states that as healthcare continues to evolve and grow so will the role of the CNL. Therefore all CNLs should expect to fulfill some continuing education credits and keep up with their clinical experience in order to remain certified. Source
After you have completed your MSN in clinical nursing leadership you’ll be ready to take your exam to get certified. According to the AACN, the exam is 140 questions long and 130 of which are scored. The additional 10 may be used towards another examination.
The exam questions are roughly divided into the following subsections.
- Nursing Leadership
- Clinical Outcomes Management
- Care Environment Management
Can I Study to be a Clinical Nurse Leader Online?
If you are looking to pursue an MSN with a specialization in CNL you can now do this online. There are a number of programs that offer their courses online. Some schools offer a hybrid option where students are required to head into the campus for one of the required intensives.
As this program does require a practicum experience you will need to set one up at a healthcare center near you. If you are currently working as an RN then you try to use your place of work!
The practicum experience is a full-immersion experience that gives you the hands-on learning that you won’t be able to get in an online format. Hands-on learning helps practitioners to codify their experience in a tangible way and it something that a number of people complain about with regards to choosing an online option.
Pros and Cons to Studying Online
- Many Programs Work Well for Working Professionals
- More Flexible
- Very Accessible
- Saves Money
- Saves Time
- Lacking Social Component
- Not the Best for All Types of Learners
- Less time with a professor.
- The Internet Is Distracting
- Not Everyone Has the Self Discipline to Study From Home
What Can I Do as a Clinical Nurse Leader?
Becoming a CNL is a great career move. This advanced nursing career is a good fit for any healthcare setting. Though there are a number of courses on management, a CNL is not a manager or an administrator. Rather, the CNL is responsible for the care outcomes in a given health care facility. Because the skills are so broad, a CNL may work in an intensive care unit or in human resources, in direct nursing care or in management.
Your clinical skills will not go to waste, however. As a clinical leader you will be expected to take responsibility for health outcomes at your clinic. A CNL will need to design programs that will assist individuals, families, or groups to get proper care delivery. It is important that a CNL understands medicine across the lifespan for a wide range of people groups as a CNL is responsible for assessing risks and developing plans to mitigate those risks. A CNL works to ensure that everyone in a health care facility receives the best care possible. This includes mentoring, delegating to, and supervising all nursing staff.
Job Responsibilities as a CNL A Quick Glance
- Clinical Leadership
- Designing and Coordinating Care With a Group of Professionals
- Identify Outcomes
- Use Best Practice to Ensure Patient Safety
- Synthesize Data
- Advocacy for Patients and for Communities
- Design Practices Using Latest Innovations in Healthcare
- Anticipate Risk
- Mentor Nurses
- Delegate Tasks to Nursing Staff
As you can see this is a very important role, but the CNL is more of a recent position created. Let’s take a look at why this role was developed.
Why Do We Need a CNL?
In 1999, a paper was published titled To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Healthcare System. The report stated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die every year in the healthcare system due to human error. The AACN had been working to address these major safety concerns- that is modern health care concerns that pertain to today’s healthcare providers. This paper helped to define the role of the CNL.
The AACN formed two task forces to address these issues. The first task force aimed to discover solutions for contemporary nurses and the second task force was to train nurses to meet the challenges. Over the years the role of the CNL was defined and developed. The clinical nurse leader role was solidified by 2007 when national certification standards were finalized and made available. Over the next five years, 1,000 CNLs were certified and stepped into the role.
What Are the Salary Expectations of a Clinical Nurse Leader
As the CNL is a new role for nurses there are no current statistics listed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS has recently listed in their Occupational Outlook Handbook that the median pay for a similar position was $84,270. The highest-paid individuals in this role made a salary of about $144,000. Like with nurse practitioners it appears as though this role is growing by a staggering rate of 22 percent. This is far faster than the average occupation which grows at a rate of about 7%.
The overall range of earnings has been listed as $88,000-$120,000 but likely to vary depending on your location and experience. In general NPs salaries increased by $10,000 annually for every 5 years of experience. This will obviously depend on your employer and the location. As the demand for CNLs has gone up in recent years so has the compensation.
When it comes to earning potential, the forecast for CNLs is excellent.
What are Related Jobs to Clinical Nurse Leader?
While the CNL is a very unique position, in terms of educational background and expertise, jobs in the field of nurse practitioner also pay exceptionally well and have some overlap with CNLs.
1. Family Nurse Practitioner
Like the CNL a family nurse practitioner has to have the clinical knowledge of physiology across the lifespan. A good family nurse practitioner will have a very broad understanding of medicine and excellent soft skills. This role is similar to the CNL in that a FNP needs to coordinate with other healthcare professionals including a primary care provider.
2. Emergency Nurse Practitioner
Who knows what is going to come through the door of an emergency room? This is why an emergency room nurse practitioner needs to have a very broad understanding of medicine. Like with a CNL an ENP will need to understand the various health care needs of a wide range of people and populations.
Nurse practitioners are in demand all across the nation. The certification has evolved over the years and nurse practitioners even go into practice for themselves. Since a nurse practitioner can prescriber you may be doing a number of the same duties as a doctor but with a much less expensive education to pay off in the end.
4.Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
This is a more specialized role than that of a CNL. In fact, CNLs don’t specialize they remain broad and delegate to other nurses who do have the specialization. This is another Master RN position with an excellent salary. The Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner deals with patients’ health concerns in their advanced years.
5.Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
If you are interested in working with babies than neonatal care is a great option. Neonatal Nurse Practitioners work in NICU. This is a leadership and advocacy role which is an important component of most nurse practitioner roles.
6.Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric nurse practitioners provide care for children and adolescents. These professionals treat children at all stages of their illness. Like with other nurse practitioner specializations the primary focus of the pediatric nurse practitioner is the focus of the job. This is not as broad of a job as a CNL.
7. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
The Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) is exactly as it sounds an advanced nursing job that focuses on women’s health. If you are interested in addressing the needs of women then this may be a good fit for you.
8. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
This is a highly specialized role with a focus on mental health. As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you may interact with individuals or families.
9. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
A CRNA is a highly skilled specialty nurse who provides anesthesia. This person will work in a wide variety of settings.
10. Certified Nurse Midwife
A Certified Nurse Midwife works closely with women pre-conception during pregnancy, delivery and post-partum. The CNM may work in homes in hospitals or in other clinics. The CNM can prescribe medications.
You may also consider becoming an occupational therapist.
Who Should Be a Clinical Nurse Leader
The clinical nurse leader is a very diversely skilled person. As a clinical nurse leader, you will delegate tasks while mentoring people. You will advocate for the well-being of your patients and deliver care while creating and implementing programming for all of the nurses. You will have to be able to communicate with other professionals like social workers. So clinical nurse leaders will also need to be aware of policy changes and any other activity that affects patients. A clinical nurse leader is responsible for the wellness outcomes of all the patients which means that this is a high-pressure, full-time (not part-time) job.
Profile of a Clinical Nurse Leader at a Glance
- Good Communicator
- Able to Talk With People in Other Professions
- Hard Working
- Excellent Time Mangement
- Team Leadership
- Health Care Technology
- Designing Care Plans
- Educating others
- Information Management
- Implementing Evidence-Based Practices
If you’re looking for clinical nurse leader jobs, you’ll want to get on a job board where you can receive every latest job alert with the right search terms. These are highly competitive positions. It likely will not be enough to search jobs; job ads will bring out many applicants with the same search results. Keep your ear to the ground and make connections who will let you know when a position becomes available in your area with the right job type or job title.