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CNL Salaries and Jobs

When it comes to specializing, registered nurses have no shortage of possibilities. There are over 100 options for roles ranging from patient-facing providers to behind-the-scenes administrators. The Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is a relatively new and high-demand role, and the salaries and job prospects are impressive.

RNs can prepare for this career by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a CNL concentration. While demand for CNLs is growing, not all nursing schools offer this degree. For example, the online MSN CNL at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) is the only program of its kind in the state.

RNs can earn their degree at ULM in as few as 20 months while continuing to gain the additional clinical experience a CNL requires.

What Is a CNL?

The CNL came about in 2003-2004 in response to an Institute of Medicine (IOM) — now the National Academy of Medicine — report that addressed the critical need to improve patient safety. The article "To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Healthcare System" calls attention to the consequences of preventable medical errors. Key recommendations include reducing fragmentation of care, and CNLs do just that.

CNLs are known as the "air traffic controllers" of patient care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) describes CNLs as the "safety net" that protects patients from falling through the cracks.

CNLs provide clinical leadership to healthcare teams at the point of care. The well-documented result is improved patient outcomes. As part of this leadership role, CNLs focus on the following:

  • Care coordination
  • Outcomes measurement
  • Transitions of care
  • Inter-professional communication and collaboration
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Quality improvement

How Much Do CNLs Earn?

The salary prospects for CNLs provide RNs with a strong incentive to consider the degree. Based on data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CNLs earn nearly $30,000 more a year than RNs without an advanced degree.

Taking a closer look at wage data reported by the BLS (below), you can see that earning an MSN CNL can be a smart move. Because the CNL role is developing, there is not as much salary information as there is for other nursing roles; however, the BLS provides wage data for medical and health service managers, who "plan, direct, or coordinate medical and health services in hospitals, clinics, managed care organizations, public health agencies, or similar organizations."

Pay LPN RN CNL (based on data for medical and health service managers)
Median annual wage $45,030 $70,000 $98,350
Highest 10 percent more than $61,030/year more than $104,100/year more than $176,130/year
Hospital Salaries $43,550/year $72,070/year $107,230/year

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017

As for any occupation, salaries may vary from one state to another and from one employer to the next. But overall, salary prospects for CNLs are strong. This is especially true when the median annual salary for CNLs ($98,350) is compared to that for all occupations ($37,690).

What Is the Job Outlook for CNLs?

BLS projections show higher than average growth for healthcare occupations, including CNLs. Overall, healthcare occupations are expected to add more jobs than any other occupational groups.

Although the CNL role is fairly new, there is growing evidence of its value. Demand for CNLs is expected to grow along with the mandate to reduce medical errors and improve patient care outcomes.

The current need for nurses is well-documented. As BLS projections through 2026 show, the demand for CNLs is even stronger.

Occupation Projected Job Growth 2016-2026
CNL 20 percent
RN 15 percent
LPN 12 percent
All healthcare occupations 18 percent
All occupations 7.4 percent

CNLs typically work in hospitals, the largest employers of RNs. They also practice in a variety of other settings, including community health centers, public health organizations and home health agencies.

According to the AACN, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the nation's largest employer of RNs. Notably, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) piloted the CNL role in its early years. The CNL role continues to grow across VA healthcare sites today.

It is no secret that nursing can be a stressful career. And it is no surprise that stress can impact job satisfaction. On the flip side, there are factors that promote higher job satisfaction. Salary is one. Feeling appreciated is another. The AACN found that over 90 percent of CNLs report being valued as employees for their advanced knowledge and skills.

Earning an Master of Science in Nursing with a Clinical Nurse Leader concentration from an accredited program such as ULM's will prepare RNs to provide the clinical leadership needed to achieve safe, high-quality patient care. Taking this step also positions RNs to advance their careers to new levels with a post-master's degree, such as a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP).

Looking at salary, employment options, job satisfaction and growth opportunities, it is easy to see why becoming a CNL is an excellent choice.

Learn more about the University of Louisiana Monroe's online Master of Science in Nursing — Clinical Nurse Leader Concentration program.


NCBI: To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System

Clinical Nurse Leader Association: FAQ

AACN: The CNL Difference

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Healthcare Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupations With the Most Job Growth

AACN: Commission of Nurse Certification

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