The clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a registered nurse who works alongside a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, social workers, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and clinical nurse specialists to assess treatments and attempt to improve health outcomes. Clinical nurse leaders, a relatively new specialty, have an advanced knowledge of general medicine. Here is an overview of CNLs, including their duties, career outlook what it takes to become one.

What are Clinical Nurse Leaders?

Clinical nurse leaders are registered nurses with advanced education in all areas of medicine. They work with many other medical professionals in treating patients and promoting good health. They counsel and mentor other nurses while ensuring the nurses not only know their duties but are qualified to get them done. CNLs also assist in creating and implementing new policies and procedures.

Although many think clinical nurse leaders are the same as clinical nurse specialists, they are actually very different. Clinical nurse leaders have advanced knowledge of medicine in general whereas clinical nurse specialists focus on one area of specialty. Through their extensive work in medical research, the CNL is able to keep up to date on the latest innovations in healthcare. This allows them to provide patients with the best possible care.

Their goal is also to provide patients with the most cost-effective and efficient care. Acting as clinical leaders at the point of care, CNLs focus on the following areas.

• Transitions of care

• Care coordination

• Interprofessional communication & team leadership

• Outcomes measurement

• Risk assessment

• Quality improvement

• Implementation of best practices based on evidence

HealthLeaders Media reports that having CNLs benefits patient care and quality. They state that units that have CNLs employed experience the following benefits.

• Shorter lengths of stay

• Fewer readmission rates

• Lower RN turnover

• Decreased fall and infection rates

• Improved quality of care

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

Because the CNL is an advanced clinician, the candidate must complete a master’s in nursing (MSN) degree. Before the candidate can do this, he or she must complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. After the baccalaureate degree is earned, the RN must complete a master’s degree in nursing with the CNL concentration.

This program has the RN taking advanced courses in clinical assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. CNLs are also required to obtain certification. This can be accomplished by passing an exam through the American College of Colleges of Nursing’s Commission on Nursing Certification.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are approximately 833 accredited CNL programs in the U.S. Many of these schools offer both on-campus and online programs as well as part-time or full-time programs.

Ranking: Top 50 Affordable RN to MSN Online Programs 2017

Career Outlook for Clinical Nurse Leaders

The career outlook for CNLs is very good. Although CNLs are relatively new to the healthcare industry, they’re already acknowledged as assets to the industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that RNs, in general, should see a 15 percent job growth between 2016 and 2026.

CNLs work in a variety of settings, including private clinics, physicians’ offices, hospitals, research facilities and acute care institutions. They also work in medical colleges in the role of nursing educators. Nurse Journal reports that CNLs earn a median annual wage of $84,000 nationwide, which is much higher than what registered nurses earn. They also predicted that wages should grow up to 20 percent by the year 2022.

With the aging population in need of proper healthcare to improve their quality of life, RNs are constantly in demand. Those that go onto to become clinical nurse leaders are the ones that can help these patients the most.