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what is a clinical nurse leader sm
What is a Clinical Nurse Leadersm?

The Clinical Nurse Leader is an advanced generalist with master’s-level preparation in nursing. This is an emerging nursing role developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in collaboration with an array of leaders from the practice environment. The CNL role emerged following several years of research and discussion with stakeholders as a way to engage highly skilled clinicians in outcomes-based practice and quality improvement strategies.

The CNL role is not one of administration or management. The CNL is a leader in the health care delivery system in all settings in which health care is delivered, not just the acute care setting.

what does a cnl do
What does a CNL do?
  • Oversees the lateral integration of care for a distinct group of patients and may actively provide direct patient care in complex situations.
  • Puts evidence-based practice into action to ensure that patients benefit from the latest innovations in care delivery.
  • Collects and evaluates patient outcomes, assesses cohort risk, and has the decision-making authority to change care plans when necessary.
  • Functions as part of an interprofessional team by communicating, planning, and implementing care directly with other health care professionals, including physicians, pharmacists, social workers, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners.
what is the difference between a cnl and a cns or aprn
What is the differencebetween a CNL and a CNS or APRN?
  • The CNL is not prepared as an advanced practice nurse (APRN) as the APRN is currently defined.
  • The CNL is an advanced generalist in contrast with the specialized focus of the practice by clinical nurse specialists (CNS) and nurse practitioners.
  • Advanced practice nurses are prepared with specialist education in a defined area of practice.
cnl cns aprn comparison cont d
CNL/CNS/APRN comparison (cont’d)

The CNL and APRN roles complement one another.

Example: the CNL may call on the CNS to provide consultation when a specialist area of concern arises (i.e. when a patient does not respond to nursing care or therapeutics as expected).

cnl cns aprn comparison cont d6
CNL/CNS/APRN comparison (cont’d)

AACN, in consultation with a leading group of CNSs, has developed a document, The CNL-CNS Roles: Similarities, Differences and Complementarities that can be downloaded on the AACN web site at:

cnl certification
CNL® Certification
  • CNL® is a unique and trademarked credential that recognizes certified Clinical Nurse Leaders.
  • CNL Certification is overseen by a new autonomous arm of AACN: the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC).
  • The CNC Board of Commissioners is comprised of representatives from the education setting, practice setting, working CNLs, and consumers.
who is eligible to sit for the cnl certification examination
Who is eligible to sit for the CNL® Certification Examination?

Eligible candidates are graduates of a CNL or advanced generalist master’s degree program or post-master’s certificate in nursing that meets the criteria delineated in the CNL Curriculum Framework and prepares individuals with the competencies identified in AACN’s white paper on The Education and Role of the Clinical Nurse Leader (2007).

education practice partnerships
Education/Practice Partnerships

Schools of nursing with CNL programs have established formal partnerships with one or more local clinical sites to ensure that CNL students have a professional preceptor experience

The CNL initiative now includes over 90 partnerships across the country between the education and practice settings.

Currently there are 90 schools and over 190 practice partners formally partnering and participating in the CNL initiative.

how is the va involved
How is the VA involved?

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has played

a pivotal role in the development and

implementation of the CNL role:

  • TennValley Healthcare, Inc. piloted the first CNL Evaluation Framework at the Veteran’s Affairs Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in 2006:
  • VA Medical centers make up over 25% of the current CNL practice partners
  • Cathy Rick, Chief Nursing officer of the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, has committed to implementing the CNL role in every VA Medical Center by the year 2016.
additional resources
Additional Resources

General Information

CNL Toolkit

CNL DVD Produced by the VA

CNL Certification

contact aacn and cnc
Contact AACN and CNC

American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Joan Stanley, PhD, RN, FAAN, CRNP, CNL

Senior Director of Education Policy or 202-463-6930

Commission on Nurse Certification

Tracy Lofty, MSA, CAE

Director or 202-463-6930