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Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

NurseJournal Staff
Updated May 16, 2022
Clinical nurse leaders manage and improve nursing processes and practices. Learn about the best clinical nurse leader programs online.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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Clinical nurse leaders (CNLs) improve nursing practice in healthcare settings. CNLs identify the best evidence-based practices in nursing for their organizations and oversee their implementation.

If you demonstrate strong skills in systems thinking, leadership, continual learning, and analytics, this career may be for you. Read on for more about the best clinical nurse leader programs online and how to become one.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online clinical nurse leader programs, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

Keep reading to learn more about clinical nurse leader programs, or go straight to our list of the best online clinical nurse leader programs.

What to Look For in an Online Clinical Nurse Leader Program

CNLs should have a master of science in nursing (MSN), or be in their last semester of MSN coursework, from an eligible program to take the certification examination. The best CNL program online for you depends on the nursing program’s curriculum, quality, and reputation. Program format, logistics, and clinical experiences are also important.

Factors to consider include:

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    Admission Requirements

    Admission requirements indicate how likely you are to be admitted and succeed in the program. They also indicate what to expect from your fellow students and what qualities the clinical nurse leader program online prioritizes.

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    Program Curriculum

    The curriculum, which is based on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) standards, should feature classes that interest you. The course and program descriptions also give you a sense of the program’s culture.

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    Clinical Experience

    Practicums apply and strengthen your knowledge through professional experience. If you attend a CNL program online, make sure you can find placement in your community.

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    Accreditation is vital to program quality. It demonstrates that professionals and academics consider the program good preparation for nurses. Only graduates of eligible programs can take the certification exam, so check the schools’ eligibility.

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    Program Length

    Does the program length and timing work for you? If you plan to work while studying, you may want to work part time during your practicum or take time off during exams.

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    School NCLEX Pass Rate

    The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) pass rate can indicate a program’s quality. Also, find out about their pass rate for the CNL certification examination.

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    School Graduation Rate

    The combination of graduation rate and board/NCLEX-RN pass rates can indicate how successful students are with the program. A high NCLEX-RN pass rate and graduation rate indicate how well the school prepares its students.

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    Online Learning Format and Requirements

    Attending clinical nurse leader programs online can make some logistics easier, such as the commute, but it can make it more difficult to interact with peers, faculty, and staff.

Do the online components work for your learning style and needs?

Applying to an Online Clinical Nurse Leader Program

Most clinical nurse leader programs online require most or all of the following:

  • check-circleA bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited program
  • check-circleAt least a 3.0 GPA
  • check-circleCoursework in statistics with a 3.0 or higher
  • check-circleAt least two references
  • check-circleA current resume
  • check-circleAn application with an essay

Many, but not all CNL programs, require a BSN degree, a current and unencumbered RN license, and at least one year of experience as an RN.

Direct-entry programs that do not require an RN or a BSN typically require a related bachelor’s degree or higher. They also require relevant courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physiology. At the end of direct-entry programs, you can take the NCLEX-RN exam.

You must have an RN license to take the CNL examination.

Why Is Online Clinical Nurse Leader Program Accreditation Important?

During the nursing school accreditation process, academics and nursing professionals determine whether a program adequately prepares its students to practice nursing. Only accredited programs are a worthwhile investment of your time and funds because:

  • check-circleThe AACN does not include unaccredited programs in its list of eligible programs for the CNL certification examination.
  • check-circleAccredited schools almost never accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs.
  • check-circleMost employers won’t hire graduates of unaccredited programs.
  • check-circleAccredited programs meet professional quality standards.
  • check-circleMany loans and grants, especially federal financial aid, are available only to students in accredited programs.

Paying for Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

An MSN is a significant financial investment for nursing students, even if attending a CNL program online means you don’t have to travel or pay room and board.

Fortunately, financial aid for nurses can help you pay for your nursing program. In addition to applying for financial aid from your school, you can apply for nursing grants, scholarships, and loans from nonprofits, professional nursing associations, corporations, and government programs.

If you commit to working in a healthcare shortage area after you graduate, you may be eligible for substantial government scholarships or loan forgiveness nursing programs.

Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs 2022

#1 Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

University of Iowa

  • Location-markerIowa City, IA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,073
  • Out-of-state$30,036
  • Retention Rate86%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled31,240
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

  • Location-markerGalveston, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,522
  • Out-of-state$20,096
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled3,354
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment25%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

Lander University

  • Location-markerGreenwood, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,700
  • Out-of-state$20,300
  • Retention Rate68%
  • Acceptance Rate43%
  • Students Enrolled3,226
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment45%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

Morningside College

  • Location-markerSioux City, IA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$31,220
  • Out-of-state$31,220
  • Retention Rate68%
  • Acceptance Rate63%
  • Students Enrolled2,599
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment54%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

Spring Hill College

  • Location-markerMobile, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$38,190
  • Out-of-state$38,190
  • Retention Rate70%
  • Acceptance Rate50%
  • Students Enrolled1,290
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment21%
  • AccreditationYes

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

question-mark-circleWhat does a clinical nurse leader do?

A CNL carries out evidence-based practices to improve nursing quality. They identify valuable practices, plan their implementation, and arrange for training. They also measure outcomes and make changes based on these outcomes.

Most CNLs work in hospitals, but they can work in any nursing setting.

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a clinical nurse leader?

One of the requirements for the AACN CNL certification examination is an MSN from an eligible program. Most MSN programs take two years of full-time study to complete.

You also need an RN license, which takes at least two years for an associate degree in nursing and four for a BSN. Some MSN programs require or prefer nursing experience.

question-mark-circleIs a clinical nurse leader an APRN?

CNLs earn MSNs, but they are not advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs must take board certification examinations in their specialty, while CNLs can take the AACN CNL examination.

question-mark-circleHow do I pass the CNL exam?

Plan early and review the preparation materials and advice from the AACN. Take practice exams and identify areas where you need to improve.

Consider forming a study group. If you attend a CNL program online, you can meet online in real time or use a messaging tool, such as Slack, to communicate.

Related Clinical Nurse Leader Resource

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.