Last week we told you about a newer nursing degree that has gained popularity in recent years. Today, we’re going to focus on a new nursing role – the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL). A CNL is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in the Science of Nursing and has completed rigorous coursework and assessments.

One of our CNL’s, Barbara Edwards, works at St. Lucie Medical Center and recently received an award from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for her work in this role. So, I asked her if she would share her perspective on this role and what sets it apart from other nursing roles.

Here’s our Q & A. 

Jane: The Clinical Nurse Leader is a relatively new role.  Can you describe it for us?

Barbara: I am a Clinical Nurse Leader on a Medical-Surgical unit. As the Clinical Nurse Leader I coordinate and over see the Nursing Care of 18-20 patients. I work in partnership with the unit management, charge nurses, case managers, staff nurses and physicians – my primary function is clinical oversight and ensuring positive patient outcomes.  I focus on evidence based practice at the point of care, specifically prevention of hospital acquired conditions, unit based education, coaching and mentoring to grow our nursing staff.


J: What kind of education and experience do you need to be an effective CNL?

B: The Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) role is the first new role that has been added to nursing since the Nurse Practitioner.  It is a uniquely designed Master’s degree educational program that was designed with a Microsystems approach to raising patient, nurse, and physician satisfaction; as well as improving care outcomes in a cost effective manner.  CNL’s maintain a post graduate certification to ensure continuing education and competency. Clinical Nurse Leaders elevate the level of practice for all nurses on a unit by promoting critical thinking and innovation in the delivery of nursing care; this is accomplished through a team-based approach.


J: How long have you been in this role?

B: SLMC created the first Clinical Nurse Leader role in October of 2006. I was one of the pioneers for this role and actually was fortunate enough to initiate the role in the hospital in Oct – graduating as Certified CNL in May of 2007.


J: Tell me about your typical day at work as a CNL?  How do you start each day?

B: At SLMC CNL’s work M-F, we do flex our hours depending on the unit’s needs but most typically 8-5.    We start our day by reviewing our patient assignment, engaging with the unit manager and charge nurse for priorities/issues or concerns.  If there are no pressing issues on the unit we review our patient list looking first at patients with Central lines, Foley catheters, pressure ulcers, and fall risk- each of these patients are seen and evaluated for compliance with best practice and then care plans updated as indicated. At 10:15 each day the CNL’s huddle with the staff RN’s and Nursing Assistants. We review any concerns, core measures, prioritize care and use this as an opportunity for short educational updates.   This provides the staff with the opportunity to ask for assistance if needed or for review of pertinent policy or practice concerns.  The rest of the day is spent visiting patients and families – the CNL’s sit down with each patient and/or family and review plan of care, conduct patient education and review of medications.

Clinical Nurse Leaders also call each discharged patient within 24-48 hours to ensure success in filling prescriptions, ensure home health services are visiting if indicated, answer questions that have come up post discharge and ensure that their follow up appointments are scheduled. In addition CNL’s ensure unit compliance with clinical initiatives and look for opportunities for quality/process improvement.


J: You received a very impressive award this year from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.  What was that award?  What aspects of your practice merited this award?

B: I am honored to have been selected by the AACN and CNC as the National Vanguard award recipient as Clinical Nurse Leader of the year.  The National Vanguard award recognizes the innovative and outstanding professional performance of a certified CNL on the frontlines of improving health care.  As a Clinical Nurse Leader I have developed and successfully implemented numerous initiatives that are focused on fostering a healthy work environment for our staff as well as nurturing a Patient Centered environment for our patients and families. I have coauthored two articles that have been published in nursing journals and I have been a featured speaker across the country regarding the benefits of implementing the Clinical Nurse Leader role. I advocate for Nursing and encourage our staff at SLMC to become involved in healthcare by furthering their education and obtaining certification in their specialty areas of practice.


J: What are you most proud of in your work as a CNL

B: I am most proud of the Nursing care that we provide at SLMC.  The Clinical Nurse Leaders with the support of our visionary leadership CEO, Gary Cantrell and CNO, Nancy Hilton developed and sustained a Caring philosophy not only in Nursing but throughout the entire organization. Often times I hear from patients and families that have been in larger hospitals (ie- specialty hospitals/ university settings) they tell us that none of them rival the Nursing care at SLMC –“it is different here, everybody really cares about me as a person”.

SLMC is my hospital; I am proud to tell my friends, family and neighbors about the care that we provide.