Clinical Nurse Leader

A clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a new role within the health-care industry and was developed by the American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN) in an effort to improve the quality of patient care and prepare the nurses for the future of clinical health care.

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The need for this position arose from a discussion with AACN and other health-care stakeholders. AACN is considered a leader in nursing education and responsible for developing and supporting new approaches in nursing education. Through AACN, a formal degree-granting program was created offering an advanced clinician master’s degree.

People who qualify for this degree program usually transition from a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) program or are master’s of science in nursing (MSN) graduates. The CNL is overseen by the Commission of Nurse Certifications (CNC). The CNC is a separate division within the AACN. The CNL Certification Program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

The CNL differs from the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) and the Advanced Practice Nurse (APRN), although these roles still bring unique skills in the care of a patient. For example, besides fulfilling different educational requirements, the CNL’s job roles do vary very much in health-care settings.

The CNL can implement mass clinical care changes across a population of patients, whereas the CNS primarily provides expert advice to other nurses and professionals on the team. The CNL provides oversight and delegation to other nursing staff, whereby the CNS serves as a mentor to other nursing professionals.

Only those people who pass the CNL Certification Exam and National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) obtain the CNL credential. At this time, there continue to be discussions on a doctor of nursing practice degree program.

The job of a CNL is typically to provide care to a distinct group of patients in the most updated and innovative ways. The CNL monitors the progress and care of his or her patients and has the authority to change care plans when needed. The CNL is a part of the team of professionals who provide care to the patient, including pharmacists, physicians, social workers, CNSs, and nurse practitioners.

The CNL is a three-hour, computer-based exam, which is annually reviewed by faculty, examinees, and the testing agency to ensure the accuracy and validity of the test. The CNL exam has 140 items and is administered usually at the candidate’s school of nursing or standards measurement and testing (SMT) testing center.

Registrations are submitted only online, and the fee is more than $300 for a first-time applicant taking the test at his or her school of nursing as compared to more than $400 at a testing center. There is a date range to take the test (Monday-Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. eastern standard time [EST]), and examination dates are typically over a two-month time period. Certification is granted for five years and must be renewed prior to being expired.