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For many registered nurses, there will come a time during their career when they decide that they would like to make a change and develop their capabilities into something more. For some, this will mean taking the steps to become a nurse practitioner. But for others, the role of clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a better fit.
The role of clinical nurse leader was created in 2003 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) with the explicit goal of preventing medical errors that could potentially lead to injury or even death. As such, CNLs perform a range of tasks with this in mind. On the one hand, they act to coordinate between the various medical professionals serving a patient. On the other, they are a resource that nurses and other staff can turn to when they need advice or support. They also work to ensure that all of an organization’s policies and general medical best practices are followed.
For this work, CNLs are paid well. Below, we take a look at the average salary of clinical nurse leaders, as well as the different factors which might influence a CNL’s pay.
In 2021, the median salary earned by clinical nurse leaders was just shy of $92,000 per year, or roughly $44 per hour. That being said, salaries ranged from a low of about $84,000 per year to a high of about $105,000 per year, not including benefits. When those benefits (including employer-sponsored health insurance, life insurance, and retirement accounts) are factored in, the true value of compensation is often much higher.
By comparison, registered nurses earn a median annual salary of roughly $73,300 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is roughly $20,000 below the salary earned by CNLs. The difference in pay between RNs and CNLs is a key factor behind why many RNs choose to advance in their career by becoming a CNL.
As mentioned above, another career that is commonly considered alongside that of CNL is the role of nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners earn an average annual salary of roughly $116,000 per year. While the salary is higher than what is typically earned by CNLs, pay is just one factor to consider when making a decision about your career. It is also important to understand the difference between the two roles before you choose which career is right for you.
Salary can be influenced by a number of factors, which we discuss in greater depth below. One of the most important factors is location; i.e., where in the country you choose to work. In Boston, Massachusetts, for example, the average pay for a CNL is approximately $103,500 per year. This is roughly $10,000 higher than the national average.
This puts CNLs in Boston among the highest paid in the nation, compared to other major metro areas. It also has the effect of raising the average wage of CNLs throughout the state of Massachusetts.
How much experience you have in a CNL capacity will naturally impact how much you are paid for the work that you perform. In most cases, new CNLs will earn toward the lower end of the average salary range, gradually earning more as they increase the number of years that they work the role Continuing education and optional certifications or specializations can also serve to increase your perceived value in the eyes of an employer and, therefore, how much they are willing to pay you.
As mentioned above, where in the country you work will have a big impact on your salary. In some states or regions with a higher cost of living, CNLs and other nurses can expect to earn more than in states with a lower cost of living, for example. Likewise, in regions where there may be a nursing shortage or a dire need for CNLs, employers may be willing to pay significantly higher wages for qualified workers.
As a point of reference, below is a look at the average pay for CNLs in major metro areas in the United States:
Finally, the specific work environment in which you are employed can have an impact on your salary as well. For example, while the majority of CNLs are employed by hospitals, they can also be employed in a number of different settings, including long-term care facilities, home health agencies, community health centers, and more. The demand for CNLs in each of these environments varies, which in turn can influence salary.
As you can see from the discussion above, CNLs have the potential to earn a competitive salary much higher than is typically possible for RNs to earn. If you are looking to advance your nursing career and make more money, then taking the necessary steps to develop can help you achieve that goal.