What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?
Definition of a CNL
A Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is a skilled clinician who is dedicated to improving patient outcomes at the point of care.
On any given day, these advanced generalists might be expected to coordinate patient care plans, improve safety procedures, develop quality improvement strategies, deploy evidence-based solutions, anticipate medical risks, reduce costs, utilize new healthcare technologies, delegate daily tasks, and mentor fellow nurses & support staff.
This kind of hands-on leadership work is done at the micro level (i.e. within a unit, floor, clinic, etc.). The CNL is a clinical role, not an administrative one. Though they often collaborate with nurse managers and clinical nurse specialists, CNLs remain focused on direct patient care. However, instead of being bedside nurses, they act as a specific and individual part of an interprofessional team.
As a result, CNLs are able to work with a variety of patient populations in almost all practice settings, including:
- Hospital units & floors
- Outpatient clinics
- Rehab centers
- Public health agencies
- Physician practices
Note: Want some real-life examples of this role? CNL job descriptions typically have a checklist of daily duties!
CNL & State Licensure
The CNL is a generalist role without prescriptive authority or a defined area of practice, so state licensing boards don’t consider it to be in the same category as nurse practitioners and other advanced practice roles (e.g. CNM, CNA/CRNA, etc.).
However, the CNL is still a clinical role, so you will need to hold an RN license before you can apply for CNL master’s programs and achieve CNL certification.
A number of RNs decide to become CNLs because they’re quite happy with their RN designation but they want more leadership responsibilities.
Clinical Nurse Leader vs. Other Specialties
CNL vs. Nurse Manager/Leadership Roles
One of the challenges with the phrase “clinical nurse leader” is that the role tends to be confused with management positions (e.g. nurse executive, nurse manager, nurse administrator, etc.). In reality, they are two different beasts:
- Clinical Nurse Leader: CNLs are RNs who have completed an accredited CNL master’s program and achieved CNL certification. Because they often work within a unit or specific setting, some folks like to call them unit leaders. Thanks to their training in patient safety, evidence-based practices, risk reduction, healthcare technology, and quality control, CNLs get to make decisions & improvements at the point of care. They usually report to a nurse manager or nurse director.
- Nurse Manager & Other Leadership Roles: Nurses in administrative & executive positions have a much wider range of responsibilities. They may be in charge of patient care operations, staff budgets, schedules & assignments, staff hiring & training, HR management, and more. During some work days, they can have little or no direct patient contact. There are no specific technical qualifications for this role, though folks often go through a MSN leadership program & earn administrative certifications (e.g. CNML, NE-BC, CENP, etc.).
If you like hands-on care & patient interactions, and can’t imagine a day without being among other nurses and support staff, consider the CNL. If you enjoy the large-scale challenges of management (i.e. the macrosystem), take a look at our guide to RN to MSN Nursing Administration Programs.
Note: Programs with the title of “Nursing Leadership” or “Nurse Leader” are often management degrees. If you’re aiming to become a CNL, look for graduate programs that only contain the words “Clinical Nurse Leader” and check the fine print on the program website. It should state that it will prepare you for CNL certification.
CNL vs. NP (Nurse Practitioner)
Are you a staff nurse with a few years of experience under your belt? You may be debating whether to become a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse leader. Both roles involve a significant amount of day-to-day clinical work.
- Clinical Nurse Leader: CNLs are advanced generalists who work with all kinds of patient populations. They do not train for a specific field of nursing in their master’s program and they do not have prescriptive authority. Instead, they act as expert RN clinicians & leaders within their unit, floor, or clinic—improving patient safety, employing evidence-based practices, implementing quality controls, mentoring staff, managing complex cases, etc.
- Nurse Practitioner: NPs are advanced practice RNs (APRNs) who specialize in a population focus area (e.g. neonatal infants, women, families, etc.). They’re expected to go through the APRN state licensure process and attain national certification. As a result of their medical training, NPs have considerable flexibility when it comes to employment. In some states, they can prescribe medications and work independently. Check out our guide to RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner Programs for an overview of the field.
Remember that you don’t have to settle for one or the other! Because CNL, NP, and other APRN programs share certain core subjects (i.e. advanced pharmacology, advanced physiology, and advanced health assessment), you can often use your master’s coursework as a foundation for a post-master’s certificate. For example, you could:
- Earn an RN to MSN Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP degree, put your medical skills into practice in an acute care hospital unit, and then earn an online CNL post-master’s certificate in order to gain more leadership responsibilities within the unit.
- Earn an RN to MSN CNL degree, focus on improvements & patient safety in your obstetrics ward, and then expand your job opportunities by earning a post-master’s certificate in nurse midwifery (CNM).
Note: Talk to the university about their program offerings before you commit to degree. They may have a post-master’s pathway all set up for MSN graduates!
CNL vs. CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist)
Another tricky choice for RNs is deciding between clinical nurse leader (CNL) and clinical nurse specialist (CNS) programs. We cover the entire debate in our guide to RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs, but here’s a quick way to distinguish the two:
- Clinical nurse leaders are advanced generalists working at the micro level (e.g. hospital unit, outpatient clinic, home health agency, etc.).
- Clinical nurse specialists are advanced specialists who concentrate on a specific population focus and work at the macro level (e.g. institution-wide).
CNLs and CNSs often collaborate, though CNSs have seniority.
RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Leader Programs
RN to MSN CNL: Overview
RN to MSN CNL programs are tailored to working RNs who have a diploma or an associate’s degree (e.g. ASN/ADN) and want to pursue an MSN or MS to become a clinical nurse leader. There are also RN to MSN CNL programs for RNs with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.
Our directory includes ACEN and CCNE-accredited CNL programs in both of these categories. They are offered by strong schools and they all contain the words “Clinical Nurse Leader” in their degree title. Check the program website or talk to the program coordinator to ensure that the degree will prepare you for CNL certification.
Note: We just want to repeat that programs with the title of “Nursing Leadership” or “Nurse Leader” are frequently aimed at aspiring nurse managers or nurse administrators, not CNLs.
RN to MSN CNL: Admissions
RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Leader programs often have the same general prerequisites as other advanced nursing programs. That means colleges & universities will be looking for:
- A diploma or associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in another field from a regionally accredited institution
- A current RN license
- At least one year of RN clinical experience
- A baseline undergraduate GPA (usually 2.75-3.0)—if your GPA is not strong (e.g. above 3.5), some schools may want to see GRE or GMAT scores
- Letters of professional/academic reference
Want to improve your chances of success? Applications committees like to see RN candidates who have had some exposure to the CNL field (e.g. working in a team on quality improvement projects, integrating research into practice, implementing patient safety measures, etc.)—anything that demonstrates a commitment to better clinical care.
RN to MSN CNL: Undergraduate Phase
Before you can get stuck into a master’s degree, you’ll be required to earn good grades on upper-level undergraduate courses at the university.
The length of this period will depend on whether you have an associate’s degree, diploma, or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, but most undergraduate coursework takes 6 months-2 years to complete.
Frequent titles for RN to MSN undergraduate courses include:
- Foundations of nursing research & evidence-based practice
- Concepts/foundations of professional nursing practice
- Community health nursing
- Health assessment
Schools of Nursing may allow you to transfer certain undergraduate credits (e.g. statistics, health assessment with a portfolio) if they feel your grades are strong enough. Talk to the program coordinator if you have any questions!
RN to MSN CNL: MSN Curriculum
When it comes to coursework, CNL programs typically try to match their curricula to AACN’s outline of Competencies and Curricular Expectations for Clinical Nurse Leader Education and Practice (2013) and AACN’s Recommended CNL Practice Experiences (2017). That’s because they want to prepare you for CNL certification.
In plain speech, that means your classroom work will be split into three parts:
- Core Courses: ~3-5 courses in advanced clinical work and leadership training (e.g. evidence-based practice & research methods; advanced nursing concepts & theory; advanced nursing practice; foundations of leadership; etc.).
- Advanced Clinical Practice Courses: 3 courses in advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced health assessment. (These fundamentals are covered in NP, Nurse Midwife, and CNS programs as well.) Some schools may add informatics.
- Specialty/Concentration Courses: 3-4 courses that specifically focus on CNL topics. Clinical outcomes management and care environment management are popular concentration courses, but topics can vary widely (e.g. healthcare policy; quality & safety; epidemiology & population health; healthcare technology; healthcare systems; law, regulation & ethics; teaching; etc.)
Depending on the school, you may be able to take a course in a focus area (e.g. rural healthcare, global public health, etc.). Many CNL programs also include a thesis or research/action project.
RN to MSN CNL: MSN Clinical Hours / Practicums
During the second half of your degree, you’ll also be participating in clinical practicums. Almost every CNL program includes ~400 clinical hours—that’s the magic number mentioned in AACN’s Recommended CNL Practice Experiences (2017). This minimum is lower than other advanced programs (i.e. CNS & NP degrees), but it still gives you an opportunity to test your skills.
The AACN recommends that 300 of those 400 hours be devoted to a “practice immersion experience” supervised by an experienced CNL or appropriate clinician/professional. In RN to MSN CNL degrees, this experience may be referred to as a capstone, internship, and/or role immersion.
In other words, you may be looking at:
- First Practicum/s: Shorter general clinical practicums devoted to CNL skills or a clinical focus area (e.g. education & mentoring; contemporary issues in nursing, etc.)
- Final Practicum: A longer immersion experience in a relevant healthcare setting (e.g. acute care facility, quality improvement department, etc.). Activities might include the modeling & development of patient care plans, assessment & evaluation of patient outcomes, case management & service integration, unit & interdisciplinary team leadership, and the like.
Be sure to ask the program coordinator about how practicums are organized, especially if you’re interested in working in a particular setting (e.g. large hospital unit). Schools may be able to arrange for you to work with one of their partner healthcare organizations. For example, the University of Virginia offers clinical experiences at the UVA Medical Center and Regis has a special clinical partnership with Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH).
Online RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Leader Programs
Are Online RN to MSN CNL Programs Available?
Yes. Because the CNL doesn’t require as much specialized training as an NP or CNS program, there are a significant number of schools in our directory that offer Online RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Leader degrees. Some will even help you earn a BSN along the way.
Here’s how most CNL distance learning programs are organized:
- Undergraduate Phase: Just like on-campus programs, you’ll be expected to earn good grades in upper-level undergraduate courses from the university before you can tackle the MS or MSN. These courses are almost always offered online, so you can work while you study.
- Graduate Phase: You’ll usually be able to take all of your standard MS or MSN courses online. But remember that you must complete ~400 clinical hours in order to graduate. Clinical practicums can take place in your home community. However, you may be expected to find the site and a CNL preceptor who is willing to supervise you.
Keep in mind, too, that some universities will expect you to visit the campus at least once before graduation. For example, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh requires online students to attend a mandatory orientation session on campus. Budget for all travel expenses.
Note: Do you live in a large metro area (e.g. Pittsburgh) with great nursing schools? You could consider a program that blends online & on-campus courses. It’s not as convenient as a distance learning degree, but you’ll get more face-to-face time with instructors.
Online RN to MSN CNL Programs & State Authorization
As we mentioned in our section on CNL & State Licensure, state licensing boards do not consider CNLs to be in the same category as nurse practitioners and other advanced practice roles.
That also means that a lot of the headaches involving distance learning & nursing programs vanish. Because CNL clinical practicums don’t lead to advanced practice licensure, you should be eligible for a number of online CNL programs, regardless of your state of residence.
Having said that, we recommend you visit the School of Nursing’s State Authorization or State Regulation page and talk to the program coordinator before you select a degree. Because of interstate agreements, schools still cannot accept certain applicants. For example:
- Washburn University’s State Authorization section explains that it’s authorized to offer its Online MSN-CNL program in most (but not all!) states.
- On its Online MSN-CNL program website, Southern New Hampshire University notes that its nursing programs are not authorized in Washington.
Clinical Nurse Leader Certification
Overview of CNL Certification
Almost all CNL master’s programs will prepare you for Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification from AACN’s Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC). If you want to dig deep, the AACN has some useful advice on CNL Certification in its CNL Certification Guide.
You need to be an RN before you can become certified as a CNL, but you do not need to pursue APRN state licensure after you’ve received your certification. The CNL is a generalist role without prescriptive authority, so state licensing boards haven’t developed specific requirements for active CNLs.
Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
The CNL is offered by the AACN’s Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC). To gain it, you must:
- Hold a current, active RN license.
- Earn a master’s (e.g. MS or MSN) or post-master’s qualification (e.g. post-master’s certificate) from a CNL program accredited by a nursing accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The AACN has a list of eligible CNL programs.
- Contact your CNL Program Director (or the equivalent) and ask him/her complete the Online CNL Education Documentation Form.
- Take & pass the CNL exam. It’s a computer-based, three-hour exam that consists of 140 multiple-choice, single answer questions.
- Keep your CNL certification up-to-date through continuing education. The initial certification period lasts 5 years.
If your school is not on the eligible CNL program list, your School Dean (or the equivalent) must submit a School of Nursing CNL Education Program Verification Form.
Note: Students in the last term of their CNL education program are allowed to take the CNL exam.
Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs
Clinical Nurse Leader Careers
Still not sure if the CNL is the right fit for you?
- Research the Role Beforehand: Start with CNLA’s job shadowing program. This will give you a chance to experience a CNL’s day-to-day routine, ask relevant questions, and get used to the practice setting. You can also talk to current CNLs (e.g. via LinkedIn) about their responsibilities and job satisfaction.
- Get Some Experience Under Your Belt: Once you’ve decided to become a CNL, we recommend that you check the requirements in current job descriptions. Employers often want to see CNLs who have at least 2 years of RN clinical experience (e.g. as a staff nurse); some are looking for 5+ years or more. Decide if you want to pursue graduate studies now or later.
- Choose a Job-Focused Graduate Program: Does the School of Nursing offer career counseling, professional & career development workshops, and job fairs? Can it help you arrange clinical practicums in your chosen practice setting (e.g. rehab center)? Does the CNL coursework include case studies? Will your research or action project have real-world applications? Will you be able to collaborate with other medical professionals during the degree?
If you’re a seasoned RN with a newly minted CNL MSN degree and plenty of hours in direct patient care, you should be in a strong position to apply for jobs. Prior professional experience counts for a lot in this field!
Clinical Nurse Leader Job Openings
- Indeed: Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs, Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Jobs, CNL Jobs, etc.
- Monster: Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs.
- Glassdoor: Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs (mixed with CNS & Nurse Manager job postings).
- LinkedIn: Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs.
Alternative CNL Job Titles
Want even more choice? CNL jobs can fall under multiple names, including:
- Nurse clinician
- Outcomes manager
- Quality & safety manager
- Unit manager
- Patient care coordinator
- Healthcare systems analyst
Clinical Nurse Leader Salaries
Glassdoor’s page on Clinical Nurse Leader Salaries and Payscale’s page on Clinical Nurse Leader Salaries will give you ballpark salary figures for CNLs. In 2018, average CNL salaries ranged from $77,000-$105,000.
It’s worth pointing out that these figures are lower than average CNS salaries, due to the difference in responsibilities and training.
Clinical Nurse Leader Resources
CNL Certification Bodies
CNL Professional Associations
CNL Conferences & Events
CNL Useful Resources
- AACN: CNL Career Services
- AACN: CNL Certification Guide
- AACN: CNL FAQs
- AACN: Find a CNL Program (Eligible for CNL Exam)
Clinical Nurse Leader RN to MSN School Listings
30 Schools Found
University of Alabama at Birmingham
School of Nursing
The Clinical Nurse Leader MSN from the University of Alabama at Birmingham is a part-time program that combines online classes and on-campus intensives. The online classes are synchronous. During the intensives, students take part in laboratory and simulation experiences to help them master essential skills. The CNL program requires 37 graduate-level credits, with 11 of those credits earned during practicum experiences. Students can complete the degree in six semesters. Courses provide nurses with the knowledge and skills to apply evidence-based practice at the micro system level. For example, the nursing financial management course and accompanying practicum cover health care economics and policy as it impacts services and budgeting at the unit level. During the capstone practicum, students take part in an intensive clinical rotation where they will undertake the nine CNL roles, including advocate, team manager, outcomes manager, educator, and clinician.
University of South Alabama
College of Nursing
Students in either RN to MSN pathway at the University of South Alabama can choose a Clinical Nurse Leader specialty when they reach the master's program. The curriculum requires students to complete 36 credits. For hands-on experience, nurses take part in immersion clinical experiences, which are usually arranged in the student's home community. Courses for this degree are presented online and include elements such as active learning, discussion, debate, research, and networking. Core courses cover topics such as evidence-based practice, quality improvement in health care, health care policy and finance, and organizational leadership. Candidates also complete 540 clinical hours spread over two practicum courses. Students have up to five years to complete their MSN degree.
Touro University California
School of Nursing
Students in the Master of Science in Nursing CNL program at Touro University complete 400 hours in clinical experiences focusing on leadership. These experiences cover role development in leadership, care management, and education and improving outcomes. The final practicum is an immersion experience. Nurses may complete the clinical experiences at the hospital where they work if the agency approves, but the hours must be completed outside of paid service. Students in the CNL program take required coursework including evidence-based practice and informatics, resource management, and health care policy and ethics. The capstone is a quality improvement project, include a scholarly paper and a poster presentation. The MSN program has a hybrid format, with classes meeting in person one evening a week and one Sunday a month, with the rest of the classes delivered online.
University of San Francisco
School of Nursing & Health Professions
San Francisco, California
Students who complete the Master of Science in Nursing program at the University of San Francisco are prepared to take the test for certification as a Clinical Nurse Leader. The curriculum focuses on leadership, management, and evaluation methods nurses can use to improve care at all levels. The RN-MSN program takes two years, or six semesters, and courses are offered in the fall, spring, and summer. The RN-MSN program uses hybrid and online class delivery. The university has partnerships with a variety of health care organizations within a 60-mile radius of its campuses in San Francisco and Orange County where students may be able to complete practicum experiences. These include Kaiser Permanente, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, and Miller Children's & Women's Hospital. Students complete 400 practicum hours, including a 220-hour internship in their last semester. The final project is a quality improvement project.
Western University of Health Sciences
College of Graduate Nursing
Nurses who want to work in an advanced role at the point of care can enter the health systems leadership-Clinical Nurse Leader program at Western University. The program prepares nurses to work as an advanced generalist in a variety of settings and care for a variety of populations as part of an interprofessional team. Including the undergraduate portion of the ADN-MSN program, this degree requires 55 credits. Students take part in clinical experiences almost every semester. For their clinical experiences, nurses work with a preceptor in a setting selected to meet certain role competencies. Coursework for this program is delivered online, and students meet two times per semester on the Western University campus in Pomona, California, for a weekend seminar. All students complete the program with a master's project which is usually a study or change project to improve patient care or outcomes.
Sacred Heart University
College of Nursing
Students in the MSN program at Sacred Heart University can choose a Clinical Nurse Leader specialization. Students who complete this program are prepared to take the CNL certification exam. The curriculum requires students to complete 39 credits in graduate-level classes. Students take four core classes and nine courses within the specialization. Some of the required classes include case management, disease management and outcomes assessment, health care information systems, and family and community context for health care. Candidates complete a role immersion experience that is divided into two modules so that students can analyze the CNL role in different health care settings and specialties. Sacred Heart offers six start dates per year, and students can determine the pace they move through the program, as long as they complete the requirements in six years. Students can arrange practicum experiences near their home.
Southern Connecticut State University
Department of Nursing
New Haven, Connecticut
Students who finish the RN Bridge program at Southern Connecticut State University can apply for the Clinical Nurse Leader track offered by the School of Health and Human Services. This is a 42-credit nursing master's program that has three components - 24 credits in coursework, a clinical component, and a research project. Required courses cover topics such as health care informatics, legal issues in health care, and transforming nursing practice through leadership, policy, and advocacy. The two clinical courses immerse candidates in the role of a Clinical Nurse Leader. For the research component, students may complete a thesis or special project. The program has full-time and part-time options, with classes meeting one day a week, on Tuesday. Students work with preceptors to complete their clinical requirements. Graduates are eligible to take the CNL certification exam.
University of Central Florida
College of Nursing
The University of Central Florida offers a pathway for RNs with a non-nursing bachelor's degree to get the necessary education for a career in nursing leadership. After taking three undergraduate classes, those nurses are ready to move on to the master's program. To earn the MSN with a focus on leadership and management, students complete 36 credits and 315 clinical hours. Courses required for this specialty include organizational dynamics, health care informatics, financial management, legal and professional behavior, and nursing management. Students complete a practicum and an internship in nursing leadership, working with a preceptor in their local community. RNs with a non-nursing bachelor's degree spend one semester on the bridge classes and they can complete the MSN requirements in five semesters of full-time study or seven semesters of part-time study.
College of Nursing & Public Health
Deicke Center for Nursing Education
Elmhurst College offers an MSN concentration in Clinical Nurse Leader to prepare students for a leadership role in the care environment with a focus on optimal clinical outcomes. Graduates are prepared to take the exam for certification as a Clinical Nurse Leader. Once RNs enter the graduate portion of the RN to MSN option, they must complete 33 semester hours of coursework. The MSN program takes two years, with the first year devoted to core courses and the second year devoted to courses in the concentration. Future CNLs study topics such as population-based practices, health care systems organization and policy, and managing clinical outcomes. In their second year, students complete an advanced clinical role practicum and a residency in clinical leadership in the care environment. MSN students enter the program in the fall as a member of a part-time cohort. Classes are delivered in seven-week blocks.
Saint Xavier University
School of Nursing
Saint Xavier University offers a clinical leadership track for its Master of Science in Nursing program. This track is designed for nurses who want to continue to work directly with patients but take a leadership role in their care, such as by creating and implementing comprehensive care plans. Some of the specialized courses in this track cover evidence-based quality improvement, improving patient outcomes, and reducing health care costs. Students also gain advanced skills in health assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. The curriculum includes 18 credits in core courses, nine credits in support courses, and 11 credits in specialty courses. Students complete a clinical leader role practicum and two clinical leader immersion practicum experiences. Graduates of this track are prepared to take the certification exam for Clinical Nurse Leader. Saint Xavier graduates pass the exam at a rate that exceeds the national average.
Montana State University
College of Nursing
ADRN to MN
Montana State University's program for associate-degree RNs who want to earn a master's in nursing (ADRN to MN) has a clinical leader focus. Students who complete the degree are eligible to take the certification exam to become a Clinical Nurse Leader. Graduates of this program hold jobs such as nurse managers, chief nursing officers, and quality improvement coordinators. The ADRN to MN program is offered online with some courses requiring teleconferencing or video conferencing. Students must meet at the campus in Bozeman, Montana, at the start of each fall semester. Students can arrange for their clinical experiences to take place in their home area. The curriculum also requires each candidate to complete a professional project. Examples of student projects include assessing medical errors on a surgery unit and developing a nurse residency program for cardiac services.
Southern New Hampshire University
Department of Nursing
Manchester, New Hampshire
Students in the RN to MSN program at Southern New Hampshire University can choose a track in Clinical Nurse Leader. Students who complete the degree are eligible for the national CNL certification exam. The master's portion of the RN to MSN curriculum requires 39 credits. Some of the courses required include systems leadership and collaborative practice, care coordination and outcomes management, and leadership in clinical microsystems. For their capstone, candidates take part in a clinical immersion experience where they complete 300 hours working under the guidance of a preceptor. The capstone also requires students to implement a scholarly project they have developed. The curriculum aligns with the competencies defined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and includes the required 400 practicum hours needed for CNL certification. There are five terms per year, and nurses can complete a graduate degree in as few as 20 months.
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus
Department of Nursing
Durham, New Hampshire
Graduates of the University of New Hampshire's Master of Science in Nursing track in Clinical Nurse Leader are prepared to take the national certification exam to receive the CNL credential. Clinical Nurse Leaders are point-of-care nurse leaders and they often take the role of managing and solving complex patient problems. The CNL track requires 34 credits, including classes in quality management, health care systems and leadership, clinical nursing leadership, and evidence-based practice. Students also complete a clinical immersion in the Clinical Nurse Leader role, completing 200 clinical hours. This track also requires students to complete a scholarly project in which they address a substantive nursing practice issue. This program is open to RNs with a bachelor's degree in another field who earned a 3.0 or higher GPA in both their associate and bachelor's programs. While not required, the admissions committee prefers applicants to have nursing experience.
The College of New Jersey
School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science
Ewing, New Jersey
After completing the RN to MSN bridge courses at the College of New Jersey, RNs can enter a track to earn a Master of Science in Nursing in Clinical Nurse Leader. Full-time students can finish the MSN in two academic years, including two summers. The School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science also accepts master's students on a part-time basis. Part-time students must complete all the requirements within six years of being accepted. This master's degree requires 34.5 credits plus 410 practicum hours. The curriculum for this program include three classes with clinical hours plus a two-semester practicum in the Clinical Nurse Leader role with a total of 340 clinical hours. Candidates also complete a capstone. Other courses cover topics such as treating patients with chronic and complex conditions, holistic health assessment, and evidence-based practice.
Queens University of Charlotte
Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing
Charlotte, North Carolina
The Clinical Nurse Leader MSN program at Queens University prepares nurses to improve patient outcomes by working in interdisciplinary teams and implementing evidence-based care. The program is delivered entirely online, with no requirement to come to campus. Students complete their clinical experiences at a site near their homes. The CNL program requires 37 credits, including 19 credits in core classes such as informatics, data interpretations, and research methods. The CNL specialty includes classes in managing clinical outcomes, managing the care environment, and professionalism and ethics in clinical leadership. Students practice the CNL role during an immersion experience, and they must find a preceptor to supervise their 300 hours of clinical practice. Students also complete a capstone project, which is a scholarly evidence-based project. Nurses can complete the program in as few as two years, and RNs with a bachelor's in a non-nursing subject are welcome.
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Department of Nursing
Pembroke, North Carolina
The MSN program at the University of North Carolina Pembroke is provided mostly online, with courses requiring face-to-face meetings three times a semester. Students who enter the RN to MSN pathway can earn an MSN in the Clinical Nurse Leader track. In this specialty track, nurses gain the skills to be a leader at the unit level and to drive the assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based quality improvements. Graduates of the 39-credit program are eligible to take the certification exam for a Clinical Nurse Leader. Full-time students can complete the master's degree in five semesters, and part-time options are available. Some of the required courses cover leadership in clinical microsystems, health care policy and finance, rural health care, and clinical decision making. Candidates also complete a practicum to gain hands-on experience in a CNL role and a research project or action project.
School of Nursing
Registered nurses who take advantage of Xavier University's pathways to an MSN can choose to follow the Clinical Nurse Leader track. This program prepares nurses to take a lead role in improving health care at the point of direct patient care. The curriculum requires nurses to complete 20 credits in core graduate-level nursing classes and 14 credits in the CNL track. Required courses cover topics such as advanced informatics, advanced pathophysiology, clinical pharmacology, and a leadership practicum. Candidates also complete a clinical practicum in microsystems assessment and one in microsystem intervention. The CNL program at Xavier is designed for working professionals who attend school part time. Classes are scheduled in the late afternoon or evening.
Oklahoma City University
Kramer School of Nursing
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Master of Science in Nursing Clinical Nurse Leader track at Oklahoma City University is taught in a hybrid style with both online and face-to-face components. The curriculum requires 33 credits, with students taking classes in the graduate nursing core, advanced clinical expertise, and preparation for the CNL role. Required classes include quality improvement and technology in health care leadership, evolving health care organizations, and health care economics and financial management. Students also complete three practicum experiences, with a total of 420 clinical hours. Students may attend on a full-time or part-time basis. Nurses who haven't taken a general statistics course already must complete one before they enroll in the nursing research class. Classes are taught by experienced nursing professionals with advanced degrees who base their instruction on adult learning theories.
College of Nursing and Health Professions
RNs who want an advanced clinical role can prepare as a Clinical Nurse Leader in Drexel University's MSN program with a CNL concentration. As part of the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, students in this program have access to a variety of clinical environments that the university runs or collaborates with. These include 11th Street Family Health Services and Parkway Health and Wellness. Students in the CLN program complete clinical experiences such as modeling care, evaluating patient outcomes, managing cases, and integrating services. Candidates also gain experience in leading nursing units and interdisciplinary teams. Throughout the program, the emphasis is on finding evidence-based approaches to solving problems and designing nursing care. Full-time and part-time options are available for this concentration, and classes are presented in an online format.
La Roche University
Division of Nursing
LaRoche University has a 42-credit Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Clinical Nurse Leader. Classes for this program are delivered fully online, and students may be able to complete the 400 clinical hours in a health care setting near their home community. Full-time students can complete the degree in five semesters. Courses in the specialty cover foundations for the role, the CNL's role in health care microsystems, and practicum courses where students apply what they have learned in a real-world setting. Candidates are also required to complete a scholarly research project for their capstone. Graduates are prepared to take the certification exam for Clinical Nurse Leaders. LaRoche reports a 100% completion rate for its online MSN degree programs and all respondents to recent alumni surveys had a relevant job a year after graduation.
La Salle University
School of Nursing and Health Sciences
The MSN program at LaSalle University offers a track in Clinical Nurse Leader for individuals who enjoy the nursing role and want to gain leadership skills. This 34-credit master's program requires nurses to complete three core course, four advanced core courses, and four courses in the track. Students choose one elective as part of the CNL track courses. CNL students also complete 400 clinical hours, mostly through a field study in clinical nurse leadership. During the field study, students complete a leadership portfolio and capstone project to show how they have used their leadership skills. Classes are offered in the late afternoon and evenings, and formats include face-to-face, hybrid, and online. While students may be able to continue to work while taking the core and advanced core classes, it may be difficult to hold a job while completing field experiences. Track advisers can help students plan for the clinical courses.
Moravian College offers a Clinical Nurse Leader track for the Master of Science in Nursing degree. The CNL program is designed specifically for nurses who want to become advanced generalists who can help patients move seamlessly through their stay in a hospital while receiving the care they need. This 35-credit program includes 21 credits in general core and direct care courses. Students complete 14 credits in CNL specialty courses, with the majority of time spent in a capstone seminar and internship. During the capstone seminar and internship, students work with a preceptor in a clinical setting to synthesize what they have learned. Over the two internship classes, students complete 400 hours of clinical immersion. Students also compile a professional portfolio.
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
School of Nursing
Students in the RN Option program at the University of Pittsburgh can choose between an online or onsite option if they decide to enter the Clinical Nurse Leaders concentration. Graduates of this program have the skills to manage a clinical unit, lead a quality improvement initiative, or work as a case coordinator. This is a 42-credit program that full-time students can complete in four terms. Part-time students are welcome, and their time to completion varies. Required courses cover topics such as leadership development, finance and economics of health care, health informatics, and ethics in advanced practice nursing. Students may start the master's degree in the fall, spring, or summer term. The CNL concentration requires 420 clinical practicum hours, and students can complete those experiences with a preceptor in their home community.
South Dakota State University
College of Nursing
Brookings, South Dakota
The Master of Science in Nursing specialization in Clinical Nurse Leader from South Dakota State University is offered in an online format. Students who complete this degree are prepared to assume clinical leadership roles in the hospital unit and other health care settings and to coordinate patient care. This is a 36-credit program that requires 420 clinical hours. All classes are offered online, but some classes may have scheduled online meeting times when students are required to be present. Graduates are eligible for Clinical Nurse Leader certification if they pass the certification exam. RNs in the RN to MSN program are eligible for the Rita H. Walsh Scholarship, a $1,000 award given by the South Dakota Nurses Association. The association also awards two $1,000 scholarship to MSN students who plan to practice in a high-need area of South Dakota.
University of Vermont
College of Nursing & Health Sciences
Students pursuing the MSN track in Clinical Nurse Leader at the University of Vermont have the opportunity to perform their practice hours at the on-campus academic medical teaching center, the University of Vermont Medical Center and its related health network. The CNL track requires 39.5 credits and 420 practicum hours. Courses are delivered in a variety of formats, including face-to-face, hybrid, and online. This is a part-time program designed so that RNs can continue to work while completing the degree. Students can complete the requirements in six academic semesters and two summer sessions, or 3.5 years, with the clinical immersion practicum taking place during the final summer. Students are also required to complete an evidence-based capstone project. Highly qualified applicants may receive tuition scholarships.
James Madison University
School of Nursing
The James Madison University School of Nursing offers an MSN concentration in Clinical Nurse Leader to prepare nurses to use leadership strategies to improve patient outcomes. The focus is on using evidence-based practice to meet patient health needs. The program requires 38 graduate-level credits and 400 clinical practicum hours. Students with an RN and a non-nursing bachelor's degree may have to take up to 11 additional credits. Some of the required courses in this track include leadership development, educational methodologies for nurse leaders, and organizational behavior in health care. During their clinical practicum, students focus on delivery systems and functions that can improve the quality of care and patient safety. Full-time students can complete the degree in four semesters and part-time students can earn their degree in six semesters. Graduates are eligible to take the national certification exam for Clinical Nurse Leader.
University of Virginia
School of Nursing
The University of Virginia offers a fast-track program for RNs who want to earn an MSN in Clinical Nurse Leader. When they are ready to complete their clinical and CNL residency practicum experiences, students may be eligible for placement at the UVA Medical Center or they may have the option of a global placement. Nursing students gain wide-ranging experience as they regularly collaborate across professions, working through the university's interprofessional education hub, where they will practice with physicians, therapists, social workers, and other medical professionals. For RNs with an associate degree, the CNL is a 43-credit program that takes six semesters. UVA awards more than $1.2 million annually in tuition grants and stipends to graduate nursing students. The Nursing Alumni Association also awards two merit scholarship annually to graduate-level nurses.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
College of Nursing
Students in the RN to MN program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee can choose a track in Clinical Nurse Leader. Because some of the core courses for the degree are included in the BSN portion of the program, students only have to complete 33 credits once they enter the master's portion. Required courses cover topics such as health policy, quality management, information systems for clinical decision making, and evidence-based care management. Students complete a practicum in care management and a role residency. Graduates of this program are eligible to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam. The UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing offers several scholarships for graduate-level nursing students, with awards starting at $500. These include the Maria T. McFarland Memorial Fellowship given for academic excellence and the Milton and Joan Morris MN Scholarship given to a full-time student entering the nursing master's program.
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
College of Nursing
Students in the RN to BSN to MSN program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh can select a Clinical Nurse Leader emphasis for their master's degree. Once in the master's program, students can complete the degree in two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study. The emphasis requires candidates to complete 37 credits. The curriculum has more than 500 practicum hours built in, with students completing two clinical experiences of 112 hours each and a CNL immersion practicum of at least 300 clinical hours. Required classes cover topics such as leadership in the CNL role, quality in the CNL role, health care informatics, and health care policy. Graduates are eligible to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam, and graduates of the program have achieved a 100% pass rate on the exam since 2009.