Clinical Nurse Leader: Salary & Role

Apr 12, 2018

A Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is a registered nurse who has completed graduate-level education and earned certification from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. These professionals provide direct patient care and fulfill leadership obilgations.

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What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is a new nursing role that combines active nursing practice with nursing leadership. These professionals have completed a minimum of a master's degree program in nursing and earned certification as a CNL from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Clinical Nurse Leaders are registered nurses (RNs) and, in that role, provide direct care to patients. However, unlike other RNs, CNLs are trained to be advanced generalists, providing care to patients of all ages and with conditions ranging from acute to end-of-life. They help draw up care plans for patients and ensure that those plans are meeting expected outcomes, making modifications as needed.

Additionally, CNLs serve as leaders within their organizations, mentoring and developing staff and consulting with other medical professionals to improve overall patient care. To do this, they employ evidence-based practice, combining the most current research data with their own nursing expertise to meet patients' needs.

Educational Requirements Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Clinical Nurse Leader; CNL certification from the AACN
Job Skills Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; organizational abilities; interpersonal and communication skills; BSL and ACLS certification
Median Salary (2018)* $77,655
Job Outlook (2016-2026)** 15% (for registered nurses)

Sources: *, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Prospective Clinical Nurse Leaders must complete a minimum of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with a CNL concentration. They also might opt to enroll in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in Clinical Nurse Leader. These programs often are available full- or part-time and in on-campus or online formats.

CNL students typically explore nursing interventions and concepts across a variety of populations, including children, adults, women and the elderly, as well as a variety of nursing specialties, such as psychiatric/mental health nursing and public health nursing. They also might take advanced classes in pharmacology and nurse leadership, in addition to exploring health care ethics and research principles for evidence-based practice. CNL students typically complete an immersion experience in a clinical setting.

The certification program for Clinical Nurse Leaders is administered by AACN's Commission of Nurse Certification. Eligibility requirements for the certification exam include current RN licensure (attained from one's state board of nursing) and completion of an accredited master's or post-master's degree program. Those who pass the exam are awarded the CNL credential.

Most employers also require that CNLs have Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, and some require Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification as well.

Required Skills

Clinical Nurse Leaders need strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to help identify areas of patient care that need improvement and to develop and implement plans to make those improvements. They also need excellent organizational skills since they juggle both patient care and leadership responsibilities.

Additionally, CNLs must have good interpersonal skills and well-developed written and verbal communication skills, allowing them to interact effectively with patients and their families, as well as medical professionals in positions at varying levels.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have career outlook statistics specific to Clinical Nurse Leaders, but it did note that registered nurses in general can expect 15% job growth from 2016 to 2026.

As of April 2018, clinical nurse leaders earned a median annual salary of $77,655, according to

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