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A Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is a master’s level educated nurse. In order to earn an MSN degree, nurses must first complete their Bachelor of Science degree and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. RNs may then advance to a Master’s of Science Clinical Nurse Leader program, in which they will take advanced courses in pathophysiology, clinical assessment and pharmacology. The final step in becoming a clinical nurse leader is obtaining the Clinical Nurse Leader Certification from the Commission on Nurse Certification (Registered, n.d.,)

The Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) role is designed to deliver clinical leadership in all health care settings. The Clinical Nurse Leader role was developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) through collaboration between academic and practice leaders in response to quality and safety issues identified by The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports in 2000 (Registered, n.d.,).

 CNLs are highly trained nurses who plan, direct and supervise patient care. They’re focused on health outcomes within a certain group or community, whether it’s a hospital unit, a home health agency or an elementary school. Whatever the setting, the CNL ensures that patients and populations receive high-quality, research-based and appropriate medical care and health promotion services. A core principle of the clinical nurse leader role is identifying and implementing methods for reducing healthcare costs for the institution.

The role(s) of the CNL designation can include the following:

Cost/financial outcomes such as length of stay, patient flow, readmission rate and registered nurse (RN) turnover

Patient satisfaction, staff satisfaction and retention

Quality/internal process outcomes such as medication management, patient safety, and prevention of nosocomial infections

Practice Model Transformation such as evidence-based and collaborative, interdisciplinary practice

Role influences point of care and organizational culture

Role partners with nurse manager

A CNL would help patients and families navigate through the complex and diverse, often fragmented health-care system. They are usually involved in the direct care of patients; they would provide education based on the patient’s plan of care, for example, an insulin dependent diabetic.


Registered (n.d.,). Clinical Nurse Leader. What Is a Clinical Nurse Leader? Retrieved from