How To Become A Certified Clinical Nurse Leader

The clinical nurse leader (CNL) position is a relatively new specialty in the nursing field. These advanced professionals work closely with a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, social workers, pharmacists, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners. Instead of practicing a particular medical discipline, a CNL practices general medicine. This distinction qualifies them to manage other nursing staff and to be a team resource.

Becoming a certified clinical nurse leader will boost your chances for promotions and other career options. CNL certification brands you as a nurse who can adapt to technology and innovations while improving nursing care for patients.

Required Education

First, you’ll need a master’s degree, such as an MSN degree. To earn an MSN, nurses must have a Bachelor of Science degree, followed by their NCLEX-RN exams. Next up would be a Master of Science in a CNL program comprising advanced clinical assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology courses. The final leg of your educational journey would be obtaining CNL certification through the Commission on Nurse Certification.

Whether you're looking to complete a CNL certification online or via in-person learning, double check that the program is properly accredited by  CCNE or ACEN.

Clinical Nurse Leader Qualities

Besides extensive academic knowledge, clinical nurse leaders should have fine-tuned soft skills since they work with a variety of personnel and patients. Necessary soft skills include enhanced problem-solving and an aptitude for critical thinking.

CNLs must evaluate patient results and suggest treatment changes to improve the patient’s quality of care. This role isn’t like other leadership positions in that CNLs work directly with patients as well as other staff. So, having a good interpersonal relationship with all involved parties is critical to a successful outcome.

In addition, CNLs require stellar communication skills to work regularly with caregivers, medical teams, and patients. Those abilities will spill over into leadership because CNLs manage nursing teams, too. They should be comfortable in various work settings, including acute care institutions, hospitals, medical colleges, private clinics, and research facilities.

What Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Do?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the CNL certification was developed in the early 2000s to address the critical need to improve the quality of patient care outcomes.  

The clinical nurse leader role is generally found in acute care settings, such as hospitals, as well as medical clinics. These individuals work alongside interdisciplinary care teams and possess higher levels of clinical competence to drive better outcomes for patients and the healthcare organization as a whole.

CNLs are primarily responsible for:

  • Developing evidence-based solutions to improve care
  • Assessing risk to ensure patient safety
  • Staying up-to-date on research and best practices
  • Ensuring cost-effective care
  • Addressing barriers to efficiency

Demand for CNLs increases daily as more healthcare organizations seek them to devise new procedures for improving patient outcomes. To advance your career as a CNL, converse with your supervisor or mentor about the necessary next steps. Be sure to consider the program cost, estimated time to complete the certification, hospital partnerships, and options for virtual or on-site classes. 



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