The University of San Francisco: School of Nursing and Health Professions
Inserting a feeding tube into dummy in simulation lab
G Nursing MSN

What is a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)?

Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNL) are providers and managers of patient care. They design, implement, and evaluate care by coordinating, delegating, and supervising the services provided by their team, which includes licensed nurses, technicians, and other health professionals. The Clinical Nurse Leader is an emerging role in the health care industry. Broadly, it is a national initiative in response to patient care needs and the current methods of health care delivery.

The successful CNL emphasizes disease prevention and universal access to high-quality, cost-effective, and culturally competent care for all patients. CNLs are trained to implement evidence-based best practices, evaluate potential risks to patient safety, identify and monitor care outcomes, provide education to various communities, and design health-promotion and risk-reduction services for diverse populations.

How is a CNL Different from Other Advanced Nursing Careers?

Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNL) are typically generalists while Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are trained specifically for specialty practice. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, "the CNL coordinates and implements client care, while the CNS designs and evaluates patient-specific and population-based programs." Additionally, "The CNL evaluates and implements evidence-based practice while the CNS has the added responsibility of generating new evidence … the roles are distinct and complementary."

How Can I Become a CNL?

A Clinical Nurse Leader is an advanced nurse generalist with training and education at the master's (MSN) degree level. The USF School of Nursing and Health Professions offers a variety of MSN programs that prepare students for the dynamic role of a CNL.