If you’re interested in advancing in your career as a nurse but don’t think that becoming a nurse practitioner is for you, you have other options to consider. One option is to pursue a career as a clinical nurse leader (CNL), which will empower you to not only impact the career of the patients under your charge, but in your entire organization.

Below, you’ll learn the ins and outs of being a clinical nurse leader, what their daily responsibilities consist of, and how CNLs influence patient healthcare—all of which ultimately leads to an extremely rewarding career.

The Role of a Clinical Nurse Leader

A clinical nurse leader is a highly educated nurse trained to serve patients across many healthcare settings. The position was established by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and is responsible for improving the quality of patient care using evidence-based practice.

CNLs are generally viewed as leaders who can implement better and safer healthcare models within organizations.

Within their teams, clinical nurse leaders are at the point of care and focus primarily on:

  • Coordinating patient care from start to finish
  • Measuring patient outcomes
  • Overseeing patient transitions of care
  • Assessing risks and researching
  • Implementing new internal policies
  • Building communication channels between teams

CNLs have patients of their own but are also considered leaders and mentors for nurses and staff. They ensure everyone is trained on best practices, can maintain healthcare standards, and has growth opportunities to advance their own skillset.

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Clinical Nurse Leader Job Duties and Responsibilities

As a clinical nurse leader, you are charged with ensuring high-quality patient healthcare through evidence-based practice, streamlined healthcare delivery models, and the latest industry innovations.

To accomplish this, CNLs often care for a cohort of patients and work closely within their teams and across departments. Day-to-day, they perform a wide array of daily responsibilities depending on the type and geographical location of the organization they work for, such as:

  • Facilitating patient healthcare
  • Evaluating healthcare treatments and potential risks for diverse populations
  • Implementing and overseeing safety standards in the working environment
  • Mentoring and coordinating care among nurses and medical professionals throughout the facility
  • Delegating and overseeing healthcare delivery of a patient cohort
  • Researching industry technology trends
  • Collecting and analyzing data and methods to assess patient healthcare
  • Educating patients and their families on their health
  • Meeting with hospital department leaders for patient status updates and needs
  • Ensuring all healthcare services and facility protocols are being followed

As nurses, CNLs work to enhance direct care to patients. But they also influence every facet of healthcare, as they are considered highly trained healthcare generalists and operations managers, too.

How Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Influence Patient Care?

Because clinical nurse leaders are seen as healthcare leaders and are involved with many departments in the healthcare system, they often have a significant (and positive!) impact on patient care. Besides providing direct care to a patient cohort, one of the most critical ways a CNL can influence patient care is by unifying the patient experience and breaking down barriers between staff and departments.

For example, CNLs provide direct patient care and understand patient needs, so they will facilitate the patient journey by coordinating with staff members in the ER or with primary MDs to learn about a patient’s latest medical updates, working with the transportation department to ensure the patient is transported to the right location at the right time, and other medical professionals such as physical therapists who need to know and understand the medical history and recovery goals to prescribe the best treatments.

Essentially, the CNL is the key to moving processes along by learning patient needs, the medical organization’s processes and workflows, and what needs to be accomplished in order to improve the patient journey. Once they’ve assessed, analyzed, and created a strategy to streamline healthcare, they communicate it to everyone involved, collect data and evaluate the results, and adjust the process as needed to ensure success.

Clinical nurse leaders also advance patient care by bringing healthcare research, innovations, and trends to the forefront of their institution. They’re expected to be familiar with technologies and processes that could enhance healthcare delivery and patient safety.

And, as mentors to nurses, CNLs promote continuous learning, share knowledge and research findings, and fine-tune both the expertise and soft skills of their staff, which, in turn, promotes better direct care, empathy, and safety for all patients.

Taking the First Step Toward Your CNL Designation

Are you interested in becoming a clinical nurse leader?

The first step in your journey will be to become a registered nurse, ideally by completing your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. From there, you will need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing for CNLs. It’s a lot of work, but the end result is an extremely rewarding career where you will make a competitive salary all while making a real difference in the lives of patients.

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