What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

The Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is the first new role in nursing in over 35 years. Presented by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the CNL is a masters prepared advanced generalist serving as the lateral integrator for the health care team who facilitates, coordinates, and oversees care within the microsystem and in collaboration with the macrosystem. For a full description, read the AACN’s Role of the Clinical Nurse Leader (PDF), which provide a full description of the CNL role.

What does a CNL do?

A CNL is designed to practice at the microsystem level, that is to say, at the point of care, following a cohort of patients with a focus on evidence based practice, safety, quality, risk reduction and cost containment. As an advanced generalist, the CNL has the opportunity to work with all patient populations in all practice settings. The CNL has been likened to an air-traffic controller of patient care who helps coordinate the patients’ plan of care.

Is the CNL an advanced practice nurse?

No. A Clinical Nurse Leader is a masters prepared advanced generalist.

How is a CNL different from a Case Manager?

The case manager (CM) role can vary in each practice setting, however, in general, the CM will coordinate the discharge plan, assure Medicare/Medicaid requirements are fulfilled and provide private insurers with clinical updates. A Clinical Nurse Leader coordinates the patients’ plan of care with the health care team. This may also include patient or staff education, patient assessment, supervision and provision of best practice protocols and direct patient care for the complicated patient. The two roles complement each other in that they both help the patient move through the hospital admission as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

How is the CNL different from the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)?

The CNS is an advanced practice specialist with a macrosystem focus. The CNL as an advanced generalist with a microsystem focus. They work in collaboration to promote best practice at the point of care and throughout the healthcare system. The AACN provides an insightful chart (PDF) that outlines the differences between the nursing roles.

Where Are CNL Education Programs Offered?

CNL educational programs are offered in colleges and universities around the nation. Contact your local University to find out if they provide the CNL® program. The academic preparation is at the masters level and includes advanced practice courses in clinical assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. The degree requires 400-500 clinical hours which includes an immersion practicum where the CNL student has the chance to practice in the role.

Does the Clinical Nurse Leader need to be certified?

Yes. In order to use the CNL designation, you must graduate from an accredited CNL program and pass a certification exam. The Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) is the credentialing body that oversees the certification of CNLs. For more information on certification, recertification, requirements and exam dates, visit our Professional Development section.

What is the Clinical Nurse Leader Association (CNLA)?

The Clinical Nurse Leader Association (CNLA) has been created from an identified need to provide a national forum for Clinical Nurse Leaders to support, collaborate and celebrate our unique and evolving role in all practice settings. The CNLA provides an opportunity to highlight the impact of the CNL on quality, safety, patient satisfaction and cost reduction. Decreasing the length of stay through lateral integration, meeting or exceeding reportable standards of practice and reducing non-refundable hospital acquired events are examples of how a CNL® can add value to cost containment efforts and improved patient outcomes.

The mission of the Clinical Nurse Leader Association is to provide a forum for members in all practice settings to collaborate, collect data, publish results, network, promote high standards of practice, maintain a professional presence and stay abreast of issues affecting their practice.

Who can become a member of the CNLA?

There are six CNLA member categories – Full Membership for CNLs, Practice and Educational Partners, Student Member, Business Member, Bronze Sponsor, and Silver Sponsor. Review all member categories and benefits.

I am a nurse executive interested in initiating the CNL role. May I join?

Yes. We encourage all interested nurse executives to join our membership in the celebration of CNL® driven patient outcomes. The benefit of the CNL® role in multiple care settings is evident in their posted work.

I am interested in committee work, how do I get involved?

CNLA has several exciting committees that you can lend your time and talents—Chapter Development, Marketing, Communications, and Education. To get involved, please contact getinvolved@cnlassociation.org

Where can I find more information about the CNL role?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing provides a wealth of information about the Clinical Nurse Leader.

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