Accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) initiative launched in 2003. The CNL position is unique to nursing because it promotes continuous personal and professional growth as a nurse.

A CNL is an experienced MSN-prepared nurse that still works bedside and interacts with patients. The original objective of the AACN was to develop a leadership role in nursing, and a CNL not only acts as a leader, but also makes substantial advances in the quality of healthcare.  CNLs practice the full scope of their profession, in addition to managing the microsystem of the healthcare setting and implementing an outcomes-based practice that is responsive to the needs of their patients.

  • Leadership and team collaboration in the healthcare environment

  • Promoting health and risk reduction through anticipation

  • Implementing evidence-based practice

  • Clinical decision-making

  • Enacting plans of care

  • Identifying and collecting care outcome information

  • Accountability for evaluating and improving point-of-care outcomes

  • Acting as patient advocate as well as customizing client care

  • Educating and dispersing information

  • Maximizing efficiency on human, environmental, and material resources

  • Integrating technology into patient care

Because the CNL role encompasses so many aspects of the healthcare field, there are many positions that are available to them.

  • Clinician
  • Outcomes manager
  • Client advocate
  • Educator
  • Information manager
  • Systems analyst and risk anticipator
  • Team manage

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What education level is required to be a CNL?

You will need at least a MSN with a concentration in Clinical Nurse Leadership or a similar program. This is because a CNL needs to be a resource for their nursing team, and the MSN assures that a nurse is clinically competent to do that.  There are also Post-Master’s Certificate programs that will prepare any nurse already carrying an MSN degree for the CNL exam.

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