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Clinical Nurse Leader Career Guide

Clinical Nurse Leader is a relatively new position in the nursing profession. It was formed in 2003 as a result of a collaboration between the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and many other healthcare organizations, all of whom realized that the healthcare system's fast changes had created a demand for nurses who could lead the way to better results.

Clinical Nurse Leaders use their skills, knowledge, and experience to gather and evaluate available information, then combine it with available resources to provide the highest quality of care for patients and the broader community, as well as the most efficient delivery of that care for the team and the healthcare system as a whole.


Clinical nurse leaders are team leaders who have earned a Master's degree. They consider the larger picture and use data and research to help patients and the healthcare system as a whole. Clinical Nurse Leaders work with other members of the healthcare team, functioning as liaisons between caregivers, patients, and administrators in order to improve outcomes and redesign the care environment to deliver better care.

Clinical Nurse Leaders have been demonstrated in studies to have a significant influence on their organization, including shorter lengths of stay, lower readmission rates, improved patient safety (i.e. lower fall and infection rates), and lower staff turnover. Risk management, care coordination, outcome measurement, and interprofessional communication are all used to accomplish this.

Tasks and Responsibilities

Clinical Nurse Leaders oversee and enhance much of what happens in their given clinical environment, and as a result, they take on a variety of responsibilities.

  • They play an active clinical role in patient care, especially in terms of patient well-being and risk reduction.

  • They gather and integrate data to improve their understanding of what produces the greatest results, and they employ technology to help them achieve that aim.

  • They represent patients, families, and communities as advocates.

  • They teach healthcare techniques and concepts to their colleagues in the healthcare team, as well as patients and their families.

  • They distribute patient care and care setting management tasks.

  • They organize collaborative patient care.

  • They look at outcomes and treatment quality to reduce medical mistakes and boost patient satisfaction.

  • To guarantee the pleasure of the healthcare professionals on their team, they work as mentors to employees and liaisons to administration.


Clinical Nurse Leaders receive significant yearly wages, according to ZipRecruiter, with an average annual pay of $104,107 and a range of remuneration as high as $166,000. The difference in possible compensation is determined by the Clinical Nurse Leader's geographic region and environment, while years of experience and educational level can also play a role.

Clinical Nurse Leaders sometimes get extra benefits and perks in addition to their base income, such as paid sick time and vacation leave, personal time, tuition and childcare reimbursement, and health, life, dental, vision, and prescription coverage.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

Step 1: Become an RN

Step 2: Obtain a Master’s Degree or higher from an accredited CNL Program.

To enhance their education, ADN nurses will need to acquire their BSN or enroll in an expedited RN-MSN program. Nurses with a BSN can enter an MSN program right away. A minimum of 400 clinical hours must be completed as part of your CNL degree, with at least 300 of those hours spent in a clinical immersion experience.

Step 3: Be a Certified by Passing the AACN Clinical Nurse Leader Certification Exam

After completing their educational program and completing their clinical hours, CNL candidates are eligible to take the AACN Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Certification test. The test must be passed, as well as the following:

  • Having a current Registered Nurse license

  • A Masters' degree or higher from an authorized CNL program is required.

  • Having completed at least 400 clinical hours as part of the CNL curriculum, including the 300 hours of clinical immersion outlined below.

  • Having completed a clinical immersion experience with a minimum of 300 clinical hours

The following is the projected time allotment for becoming a Clinical Nurse Leader:

  • 6 years to earn undergraduate and Masters’ degrees

  • Pass NCLEX-RN exam and CNL certification examination afterwards

  • Obtain experience working in clinical patient care

Continuing Education

The accreditation of Clinical Nurse Leader must be renewed every five years. CNLs must complete at least 50 contact hours, which must include the following:

  • A Continuing Medical Education unit with a minimum of one contact hour

  • A Continuing Nursing Education unit with a minimum of one contact hour

  • A Continuing Education unit with a minimum of 10 contact hours

  • 10 quarter contact hours or 15 semester contact hours of college credit hours

Contact hours can be earned through mentoring, coaching, preceptorship, or clinical supervision. Recertification also necessitates holding a Registered Nurse license, adhering to the CNL Standards of Conduct, and working a minimum of 2000 hours throughout the course of the five-year certification term.


Nursing jobs are in high demand at all levels and in all speciality areas. Because of the national nursing shortage, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of registered nurses will increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028. When you add in the fact that Clinical Nurse Leaders make major contributions and changes to the departments where they work, it's clear to see why so many institutions and healthcare systems are looking for them.

Their job description is to develop, execute, and evaluate patient care in any department to which they are assigned. As a result, the organizations in which they work place a high value on their job. Because the role is relatively new, with only around 1,000 licensed CNLs in the United States at current moment, young nurses joining this crucial sector can be confident in their career prospects and job prospects.

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