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HEALTHCARE CAREER GUIDES

Clinical Nurse Leader Career

OVERVIEW

What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?


 

A clinical nurse leader (CNL)—also called a clinical nurse specialist (CNS)—is a nursing specialist who is focused on analyzing, improving, and transforming current processes as well as educating other nurses on best practices for the continuum of care within any healthcare environment. Clinical nurse leaders generally fall under the broad category of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

The position itself is an advanced, specialty career, so you will generally need a bachelor's degree in a healthcare-related field as well as a master’s degree in order to get a job as a clinical nurse leader. Some clinical nurse leaders even go on to obtain a doctorate of nursing for this specific role. Note that some healthcare facilities may allow specialized training or certifications in place of a master’s or doctorate degree.

RESPONSIBILITIES

What Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Do?

The exact day-to-day responsibilities of a clinical nurse leader depend highly on where the individual is employed, but some of the common duties for someone in this role include:

  • Performing risk assessments to assess any gaps in care.
  • Analyzing treatment results to identify any outcome commonalities or trends.
  • Carrying out continual research to understand new processes and innovations within the healthcare—and specifically the nursing—industry.
  • Assessing budgets and creating suggestions for cost-effective and comprehensive care.
  • Developing evidence-based solutions for comprehensive care and better patient outcomes.
  • Educating other healthcare professionals on best practices and changes to current processes.
  • Managing the nursing employees.
  • Providing patient care and patient education.

EDUCATION & BEST DEGREES

How Do I Become a Clinical Nurse Leader?

As mentioned above, prospective clinical nurse leaders will need to become a registered nurseMaster's in Nursing Leadership and Management in order to practice in the field. There are options to obtain this degree for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as options for those who need to obtain both their BSN and MSN degrees. For those who have already earned a master's degree, a post-master's certificate in nursing leadership & management can be beneficial.

Best Degrees for a Clinical Nurse Leader

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: Due to in-person clinical requirements, students must be full time residents of FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, NE, NV, NM, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT to enroll in this program. The coursework in this program is offered online, but there are in-person requirements.
  • Tuition: $6,430 per 6-month term for the first 4 terms of pre-nursing coursework and $8,755 per 6-month term for the remaining 4 terms of clinical nursing coursework.
  • Time: This program has a set pace and an expected completion time of 4 years. Certain coursework may be accelerated to finish faster.
  • WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  • If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 77% of graduates finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 23 total courses in this program.
  • Transfers: Students can transfer up to 90 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide. If you are an RN ready to earn your BSN, this program will help you accelerate to earn your degree.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 32 total courses in this program.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality. This program is ideal for current RNs who are interested in earning both their BSn and MSN in an accelerated program.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for additional career opportunities.

  • Time: 68% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 15 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for current RNs who have a BSN and are ready for the next step in their education.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.
  • Courses: 8 total courses in this program.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

How Much Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Make?

$96,249

According to Salary.com, the average clinical nurse leader salary is $96,249 annually with a low of $86,682 and a high of $106,915. Additionally, where you are located geographically, your level of education, your amount of experience, and the type of facility that you work in can influence your income as a clinical nurse leader.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

 

6%

Since the clinical nurse leader role is relatively new, there are no job outlook statistics available as of yet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the general RN job outlook will see a 6% increase by 2032—faster than the national average. 

SKILLS

What Skills Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Need?

There are certain skills that current and prospective clinical nurse leaders needs for success within the role. Some examples of critical skills include:

  • Analytical. Clinical nurse leaders will need to analyze various processes and patient outcomes to determine what areas need to be addressed.
  • Leadership. Clinical nurse leaders help direct/manage other nurses, so it is important to be comfortable giving direction and being in a position of authority.
  • Educational. Clinical nurse leaders often have educational aspects to their roles, so you must be comfortable developing curriculum and facilitating training.
  • Collaboration. Clinical nurse leaders generally work with a number of different healthcare workers and other nurses. It can be hard to analyze everything with a granular view of the day-to-day, so it is important to have good collaboration and communication skills to ensure that you get insight into any issues that need to be addressed.

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming a Clinical Nurse Leader?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.