Becoming a clinical nurse leader means that you have an opportunity to shape patient care in the healthcare institution that you are a part of.
You will be a senior member of the healthcare team, providing support and leadership for your staff and patients and having a say in healthcare policy.
What is a clinical nurse leader?
A clinical nurse leader is a registered nurse who has been educated to a high level, with a focus on leadership and improving care at all levels.
As part of their training, registered nurses will come to understand how to implement organizational change and how to work with people effectively to get the best outcomes. Some of the focuses of a clinical nurse leader are:
- Coordinating care – having a high-level view of the care within the organization they are working in, and making decisions that ensure that every patient receives the care they need, taking into account budgeting and staffing constraints.
- Measuring outcomes – clinical nurse leaders will take a scientific approach to measure how effective the changes they make are and using this information to inform their decisions in the future. They will be concerned with designing systems that accurately collect data and help them to analyze it.
- Transitions of care – ensuring that patients transitioning in and out of the service they are responsible for do so smoothly.
- Communication and leadership – an effective clinical nurse leader must be an excellent communicator with the ability to express complex ideas in a concise manner. They are responsible for leading their team and so must inspire confidence.
- Risk assessment – identifying risks in their organizations to patient health and wellbeing and working to mitigate them.
- Quality improvement – seeking to improve the quality of care at a system level.
A day in the life
The role of clinical nurse leader will vary depending on where they work, so if it’s a role you are interested in, it’s a good idea to read as widely as possible!
One clinical nurse leader working at a large children’s hospital in Florida described her role as being later to the nursing manager and explained that as long as she was on shift, she was considered accountable for all of the clinical care provided.
Although she spends most of her time on the ward and interacting with patients, she doesn’t have any patient cases assigned to her directly. She acts as a bedside resource, whereas the clinical nurse specialist works at a higher level designing policy and is less hands-on with the patients.
As well as speaking with patients, she spends a lot of time talking with the staff, understanding what their caseloads are, and helping to ensure that they have access to the resources they need.
She helps to facilitate communication between departments in the facility so that patients can more easily access the care they need, as well as working with staff to help them to resolve issues with their patients.
The role means being involved with patients and staff as individuals but also have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture.
Clinical nurse leaders earn excellent salaries. The average pay for a clinical nurse leader is $104,107, and some are paid as much as $166,000.
The salary that you will actually earn as a qualified clinical nurse leader will depend on the organization where you are employed, as well as your location in the country. You can usually expect your salary to increase in line with your experience and skills, too.
In addition to an excellent salary, clinical nurse leaders can expect to receive significant perks, such as vacation days, healthcare coverage, and even childcare reimbursement.
Who would make a good clinical nurse leader?
Unlike other leadership roles within the nursing field, clinical nurse leaders are heavily patient-facing, so if you want to become a clinical nurse leader, it’s essential that you enjoy working closely with other people.
As well as working closely with patients, clinical nurse leaders work extensively with staff, providing mentorship and guidance to other nurses, so it’s important that this kind of teaching role appeals to you if you’re going to pursue this career. If you enjoy working in this way, it’s a role that can be highly rewarding, as you’ll be able to help shape the careers of new nurses.
Additionally, it’s vital to have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As well as working closely with people, clinical nurse leaders must be able to step back and consider the larger picture, taking into account healthcare policy and people working in departments other than their own to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.
In order to work as a clinical nurse leader, you will first need to be a registered nurse (RN), which means getting a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) or an ADN (advanced degree in nursing) and getting certified by your state.
You will then need to undertake an MSN program (master of science in nursing).
If you aren’t already an RN, you can undertake a direct entry MSN program which will allow you to obtain both your BSN and your MSN and will allow you to apply for licensure both as an RN and a clinical nurse leader.
To qualify for the direct-entry MSN program, you will need a bachelor’s degree in any other subject, which makes it a perfect option for career changers.
To become certified as a clinical nurse leader, you will need to apply to your state. The requirements for licensure are:
- Having a current license as a registered nurse.
- Having a master’s degree from an accredited CNL (clinical nurse leader) program.
- Completing a minimum of 300 hours of clinical experience within a clinical immersion experience.
- Completing 400 hours of clinical experience within your CNL program (this can include the 300 hours of clinical immersion experience).
- Completing a written exam.
Your MSN program will be able to assist you with arranging the clinical experience you need to apply for licensure and with preparing for your examination.
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