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Introducing the Clinical Nurse Leader
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8th Sep, 2010 | Source : American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Nursing is a dynamic profession that offers a variety of opportunities to provide direct patient care, conduct research, teach across settings, shape public policy, lead health systems, and practice in an increasing number of innovative ways.  One new nursing role that is fast gaining traction in hospitals and health systems nationwide is the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL).

Prepared at the master’s level, CNLs oversee the care coordination for patients, assess risks, develop quality improvement strategies, facilitate team communication, and implement evidence-based solutions at the unit level. Practice sites nationwide are restructuring their systems to accommodate the CNL as a way to engage skilled clinicians in outcomes-based practice and systems redesign.  In fact, the Veterans Health Administration, the nation’s largest employer of registered nursing, is moving to introduce CNLs into all of its more than 1,400 medical centers by the year 2016.
But is the Clinical Nurse Leader role right for you?  To answer this question, you must know your strengths and recognize the level at which you wish to impact patient care.  Nurses looking to provide direct care services while exercising clinical judgment, systems improvement, patient advocacy, and communication skills often flourish in this role. CNLs by definition are leaders, but this leadership occurs at the point of care.  The role is not focused on nursing administration or management. CNLs are typically found at the bedside where they collaborate with other direct care providers to provide a safe environment for patients where needs are prioritized and individualized.

To accommodate the growing interest in the role, the number of CNL programs has grown significantly over the past few years. The latest annual survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that 85 CNL programs are now available in 34 states and Puerto Rico.  Programs are available for both entry-level students and nurses looking to advance in their careers. Most schools of nursing offering the CNL program work closely with their practice partners to find post-graduation employment for their CNL graduates.

As students near the end of their CNL programs, they will be encouraged to complete their role preparation by pursuing certification though the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC).  CNL certification is a mark of excellence that lets employers, patients, and colleagues know that the CNL possesses the requisite knowledge and skills to practice in this unique capacity.  To date, more than 1,000 CNLs have been certified with many more in the pipeline to take the required exams.  Those wishing to learn more about the CNL are encouraged to check out these resources:

AACN’s Clinical Nurse Leaders Resource Center

Directory of Schools with CNL Programs

CNL Certification from the Commission on Nurse Certification

Clinical Nurse Leader Association (CNLA)


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