Career Development

Take Your Nursing Career to the Next Level — Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

Are you a registered nurse who wants to move up into a supervisory role while still being directly involved in patient care? If so, the clinical nurse leader (CNL) role may be for you. This is a relatively new nursing role that was first implemented in 2007 in response to declining patient outcomes in hospitals and other clinical settings around the country. The role of a clinical nurse leader is to improve patient outcomes by directly coordinating and supervising a care team.

Unlike other administrative nursing roles, the clinical nurse leader doesn’t sit behind a desk all day handing out orders, but instead involves him or herself directly in patient care on the clinical level. You must be a registered nurse (RN) in order to become a clinical nurse leader, but you’ll also need to earn a master’s degree with a clinical nurse leader specialization. It should be easy for new clinical nurse leaders to find jobs, since the medical administrative services field is rapidly growing.

What Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Do?

A clinical nurse leader has a background in advance practice nursing, but it’s important to note that a CNL does not act as an advance practice nurse. Advance practice nurses have more privileges in terms of diagnosing and treating illnesses; for example, they can prescribe drugs and medical devices. Instead, a CNL supervises a collaborative patient care environment that can involve delegating patient care tasks and supervising patient care. Other duties you’ll take on as a CNL include:

  • Mentoring other nurses and staff.
  • Integrating health care services across multiple levels.
  • Creating and supervising a positive and healthy work atmosphere.
  • Evaluating patient risks and outcomes.
  • Developing patient care plans.
  • Coordinating your nursing staff’s direct patient care activities.

The CNL role is leadership position that will allow you to take direct responsibility for patient care outcomes. You’ll be a clinician, providing direct care to patients from all walks of life. You’ll work to produce better patient care outcomes, advocate for patients and their families, and make the best use of information technology to improve patient care. You’ll educate patients and other care providers about the best evidence-based care strategies. You’ll try to anticipate and prevent medical errors and minimize risks. You’ll manage a team of other nursing professionals, acting as both leader and partner.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

The path to becoming a clinical nurse leader is narrow, but open to RNs who want to advance their careers through further education. You must be a registered nurse in order to qualify for CNL positions, and you’ll also need to earn an MSN with a clinical nurse leader specialization. If you’re already an RN, you might consider an RN-to-MSN program. If you’re not yet an RN, you can earn your MSN first and then take the NCLEX exam to earn your RN licensure.

In order to get accepted to an MSN with clinical nurse leader specialization program, you’ll need to have a BSN or another Bachelor’s in the medical field. You should gain background in the following subjects as an undergraduate:

  • Epidemiology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Statistics
  • Microbiology
  • Health care policy

At the graduate level, you’ll need to develop skills in team care, quality improvement, informatics utilization, patient-centered care, and evidence-based practice. Your MSN program will cover all of these skills and more.

Why Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

Just as it is for other health care management positions, the outlook for CNLs is expected to be extremely good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medical and health services management field is expected to enjoy 23 percent growth over the next 10 years. Average job growth across all industries is expected to hover around 10.8 percent, so you can see that this is a fast-growing industry in which you should have no trouble getting a job. CNL salaries average around $88,580 per year.

A clinical nurse leader takes on a management role, providing direct patient care while directing and mentoring other nurses under his or her supervision. Though it’s relatively new on the health care scene, the CNL role is a great option for RNs who want to advance in their careers while working in an environment that enables close teamwork and direct patient care. As a CNL, you’ll be helping to improve outcomes for all the patients under your care, and you’ll be directly responsible for making your hospital or clinic a more successful organization.

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