What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

A clinical nurse leader is a registered nurse or APRN with a leadership role in patient care and employee performance.

These healthcare professionals concentrate on improving patient care outcomes and team dynamics.

Clinical nurse leaders perform numerous duties including observing, correcting, and implementing better healthcare practices among medical teams.

They also help healthcare workers perform their best through education, support, leadership, and teamwork.

As a result, clinical nurse leaders manage patient care practices, approaches, and employee development.

What Do Clinical Nurse Leaders Do?

Clinical Nurse leaders perform numerous duties to ensure patients receive adequate care.

For instance, they will observe the current care practices of patients to correct issues during treatment.

In addition, they improve employee performance, enhance teamwork and communication dynamics, and develop practical and proven treatment strategies.

Finally, clinical nurse leaders act as an inspiration for others in the field that may need help or assistance.

They help employees understand and develop their skills on an individual and team level.

They’ll also assist healthcare staff with other educational and leadership-related objectives.

Clinical nurse leaders work with various healthcare professionals to improve the entire group.

It includes doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, clinicians, social workers, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers.

It ensures patients receive the best care possible and that staff implements the best practices, policies, and procedures.

These healthcare professionals advocate for better patient care and are educators for the patients and healthcare specialists they serve.

CNLs also research the latest healthcare practices and technologies to stay ahead of the newest healthcare changes.

It enables them to develop strategies that allow healthcare facilities and teams to prosper and provide excellent care.

Below you can find a list of skills clinical nurse leaders must master to be effective in the field.

Clinical Nurse Leader Duties:

  • Develop processes to improve employee performance
  • Observe patient care approaches to improve or correct treatments
  • Delegate tasks and oversee care delivery
  • Improve teamwork and coordination
  • Help workers develop and expand their skill set
  • Advocate for better patient care practices
  • Research new healthcare practices and technologies
  • Manage transitions of care
  • Implement best practices based on evidence
  • Collect and analyze data to assess patient healthcare
  • Conduct research and risk analysis
  • Handle information management
  • Manage outcomes and system analysis

Ultimately, clinical nurse leaders reduce errors, improve performance and ensure employees and patients achieve optimal outcomes.

Team Communication and Development

Clinical nurse leaders are responsible for improving communication skills among various team members.

Improving communication and development enables employees to provide the most beneficial work performance.

As a result, they can better facilitate effective patient care and treatment standards.

Research and Risk Analysis

Clinical nurse leaders focus on researching the latest technologies and healthcare standards/policies.

It enables them to consistently develop effective teams and ensure patients receive the best care possible.

It also helps minimize errors and complications during patient treatment.

Information Management

Clinical nurse leaders may be in charge of information management.

They oversee entire teams, evaluate their performances, and communicate with employees on an individual and team level.

They also implement new healthcare strategies to ensure that employees operate effectively and more efficiently.

Patient Care Observation and Implementation Strategies

Clinical nurse leaders are in charge of observing teams and looking for weaknesses and communication gaps among team members.

It enables them to develop better team structure and dynamics to benefit both the patients and medical teams involved.

Patient/Client Advocacy

Clinical nurse leaders may advocate for their patients and clients by supporting their cause.

These specialists educate those within their influence sphere and spread the word through various social channels and networks.

Ultimately, clinical nurse leaders focus on developing effective medical teams through research, strategy development, implementation, and advocacy work.

They help patients receive the best care possible and help medical teams perform at the highest level of medical care.

Where do Clinical Nurse Leaders Work?

Clinical nurse leaders work in various healthcare settings.

It includes hospitals, private healthcare facilities, private clinics, long-term care facilities, and acute care institutions.

Occupational Settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Private healthcare facilities
  • Private clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Acute care institutions

A clinical nurse leader’s responsibilities vary depending on their employer’s needs.

However, they’re typically responsible for overseeing patient care and improving team dynamics among their units.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Leader

There are numerous steps aspiring clinical nurse leaders must satisfy to obtain a career in this profession.

It includes earning their BSN, acquiring work experience, completing post-graduate education, and passing the CNL exam.

This section explores the multiple phases nurses complete to become clinical nurse leaders.

1. Join a Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a clinical nurse leader is to join a nursing program.

Students must complete the nursing school prerequisites and maintain a good GPA based on the program provisions.

Numerous nursing schools have strict requirements to accept students due to competition and academic conditions.

As a result, students often apply to several nursing programs to maximize their acceptance odds.

After completing the necessary prerequisite courses student may enter the nursing program.

2. Obtain a BSN Degree

Most nursing programs offer students the option to pursue an ADN or BSN degree.

The ADN degree is a good option for those who want a basic education to quickly enter the nursing profession.

This degree takes roughly 18 – 24 months to complete and enables nurses to pursue entry-level positions.

Students with an ADN can enter the nursing profession up to two years faster than those pursuing a BSN.

It enables them to gain experience, make money and develop vital skills.

Nevertheless, those interested in becoming clinical nurse leaders must obtain a BSN.

The BSN degree is a 36 – 48 month program that provides a more comprehensive nursing education.

As a result, students can obtain careers in more specialized domains and pursue postgraduate education.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN

After completing nursing school and earning a BSN, students must pass the NCLEX exam.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the exam.

Nursing graduates must complete this exam to demonstrate their competencies in nursing and obtain their licenses.

4. Acquire Work Experience

Most nursing school graduates spend several years operating in nursing to develop their work experience.

It enables them to learn the profession, understand how to provide exceptional care, and coordinate with team members.

In addition, numerous post-graduate programs require several years of clinical experience before applying.

Registered nurses who obtain adequate experience may pursue some entry-level clinical nurse leader jobs directly.

Numerous healthcare institutions require 3 – 5 years of experience in a related specialization to the position offered.

It’s also important to mention that entry-level clinical nurse leader jobs are rare for those with a BSN.

Accordingly, many healthcare facilities prefer/require nurses to possess an MSN to operate as clinical nurse leaders. 

5. Attain an MSN Degree

Most aspiring clinical nurse leaders must return to school to obtain their MSN with a CNL specialization.

Acquiring an MSN enables these healthcare professionals to become advanced practice registered nurses or APRNs.

The MSN program takes roughly two years to complete and offers extensive training in care coordination and leadership.

This program helps nurses build their foundation of knowledge to operate as competent clinical nurse leaders.

Numerous colleges offer clinical nurse leader MSN programs with in-person and online courses.

After completing the necessary coursework and obtaining an MSN students must obtain CNL certification.

6. Obtain CNL Certification

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing offers the CNL certification.

This certification tests a nurse’s competencies as a clinical nurse leader and ensures they meet the examination standards.

As a result, those with CNL certification demonstrate their competency, dedication, and expertise in the specialization.

Certification also shows employers that they will provide exceptional care to the employees and patients they serve.