A typical day at work as a clinical nurse leader

Male and female medical professionals looking at tablets
A clinical nurse leader position can be a notable shift from other nursing jobs, but that’s part of what makes it so appealing. Learn more about the necessary processes leading up to your first position before you take it on, as well as the actual daily work you’ll be doing. An Online Master of Science in Nursing degree can naturally support your journey down this path.

Preparing for the role

First, let’s look at the preparation you’ll need to go into this field. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a graduate-level degree, especially with a focus on nursing, is needed for the kind of work this job requires.

The AACN stated that this will have to go beyond the four years of a baccalaureate program, which means that anyone looking for this job should consider the education needed and plan for completion. Without the right degree background, applicants won’t be prepared to take the CNL Certification Examination and move forward on this exciting and rewarding career path.

In terms of content, the CNL test follows the CNL Job Analysis Study and covers areas such as care services integration, ethics and clinical outcome management. The AACN also listed the latest updates to this exam in an online guide as of October 2016, and also mentioned several points through which to determine health care informatics proficiency.

This may be the least-familiar element for new applicants, since it represents the importance of information technology and appropriate ethics, as well as taking a wide view of what technology can do and how it relates to different technological systems. This could expand the scope of what your proficiency is to be during the actual job itself.

The core of the position

The CNL has a lot of technological responsibilities including managing information and building off of the needs of the care center. However, there are other important aspects of this position that may slightly differ from the more popular alternatives:

  • Excellent communication skills: The CNL is often expected to work closely with others while still being a strong leader. This is, unsurprisingly, another one of the subjects in the test and can similarly permeate everything that a CNL does in his or her daily operations.
  • Willingness to innovate: Working on a site-specific level, the CNL has a greater chance to develop relevant initiatives for each place that he or she works in. That can also be a chance to emphasize the difference of the CNL position from other clinical jobs in the same general area.
  • Focus on safety: Everything nursing staff does should ideally lead to better safety, but the CNL can especially be a part of this. An AACN document mimicking a sample job description for this role said that the CNL’s work in acute care work can include the drive to “provide a safe environment.” That could align with any facility’s goals of enhancing care outcomes.
  • Supportive nature: Multiple aspects of what the CNL does are designed to help the other staff in various ways, from mentoring to immediate assistance for data-related measures. Because of the combination of medical and management skills that the role symbolizes, an average CNL can find his or herself doing important tasks for the benefit of the team. The use of data to solve problems can also fall in neatly with the desire to encourage various staff members to continue their career and work toward higher positions in the field. Even the less direct impacts of the CNL can help clinicians improve themselves by showing them better ways to work and inspiring them to push themselves.

These can all be in the back of a CNL’s mind as they strive to make a name for themselves in their role, and inform what they do each day. As for the actual work done each day, it can be similar to that of other positions while still drawing from a person’s specific strengths and duties.

A daily schedule

A Texas Health Resources presentation shared at the 2015 Clinical Nurse Leader Summit focused on the average CNL schedule at the hospital, which contained 726 beds and 38 Resident Nurses, among other qualified staff. According to this source, a usual day for a CNL goes from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, with the entire day broken up into four sections.

The first half of the day, the presentation said, was devoted mostly to information: An hour and a half of reviewing charts and audits, followed by another of daily care briefings. After that, the schedule said that rounding and charting would last from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with the rest of the day devoted to “Project Planning/Implementation & Meetings,” including the scheduled meetings that help the CNL interact with other important leaders.

While this might be the standard for this one facility, there could be other variations. It’s also worth noting that this seems to be just the procedure for the established CNL, as opposed to someone new to the role. The presentation addressed this, too, saying that any leader’s first 100 days would include orientation efforts such as developing a mentor relationship and finding out more about the culture.

Why be a CNL?

For those students who don’t know as much about this position as other offerings, there could be an element of risk about pursuing the CNL status. However, there are many practical elements to what the CNL does, as well as overlap between some of the values and daily duties of the employee. If your current trajectory already lines up with the typical CNL role, then you might secure a job for yourself by taking more of an interest in this role.

It might seem like a relatively new concept, but the idea of the CNL goes back several years. Just recently, the AACN stated that the skill set goes back to a 2007 panel, which described 24 of the key “practice experiences” that can inform someone going into this role. Some examples include tasks such as evaluating resources, implementing a safety improvement process and leading team meetings to try to learn what interacting with others as a CNL specifically entails.

The CNL is known as an outcome focused position, which is one of the ways it stands out compared to others. When you perform CNL work, you’ll be acting directly with patients, families and healthcare teams to improve patient care outcomes. A CNS tends to be more tightly focused on one area, while a CNL can work in many areas. With that in mind, CNLs work with CNSs, in staff nurse positions, outcome management roles and traditional supervisory positions. The CNL works with many different members of the healthcare team for success.

Obtain an online MSN degree and you may have a faster way to move toward a more prosperous, valuable career as a CNL.

Recommended Readings:

Top Clinical Nurse Leader Resources

What is a CNL?











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