Salary: MSN Clinical Nurse Leader


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This feature is brought to you in partnership with the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions.

Think being a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) might be the career path for you? If you’re interested in learning more about what being a CNL entails, how much you might make, and what other nurses think about the gig, read on!

MSN Clinical Nurse Leader


$59,000 – $108,000


The role varies across practice settings, but is “practiced at the point of care, following a cohort of patients with a focus on evidence-based practice, safety, quality, risk reduction, and cost containment. As an advanced generalist, the CNL has the opportunity to work with all patient populations in all practice settings” (per the Clinical Nurse Leader Association). The American Association of the Colleges of Nursing (AACN), along with nurse executives and nurse educators, designed the Clinical Nurse Leader role in response to the Institute of Medicine’s report on medical errors, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, released in November 1999.

Why you might love this job:

The Clinical Nurse Leader is a relatively new nursing role–the first new role in 35 years!–developed to “prepare highly skilled nurses focused on the improvement of quality and safety outcomes for patients or patient populations. The CNL is a registered nurse, with a Master’s Degree in the Science of Nursing who has completed advanced nursing coursework, including classes in pathophysiology, clinical assessment, and pharmacology. CNLs oversee patient care coordination, assess health risks, develop quality improvement strategies, facilitate team communication, and implement evidence-based solutions at the unit level. The Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) provides certification for the Clinical Nurse Leader.”

Hot tip:

If you want to become a master’s-prepared nurse, but don’t think personnel management or administration is right for you, the CNL role allows you to practice at the master’s degree level, but stay at the bedside coordinating the care of patients. You don’t have to leave direct patient care if you get a master’s degree level position in nursing.

Are you a CNL? Share with the Scrubs community what you think about your field in the comments below.


American Association of the Colleges of Nursing
Clinical Nurse Leader Association
Institute of Medicine

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