Some registered nurses go on to become clinical nurse leaders. What this means is that they have specialized in certain specific medical fields and/or specific groups of populations and that they have taken on the role of leader in that field. A clinical nurse leader advises, counsels and mentors other nurses, particularly when it comes to complex procedures. As a clinical nurse leader, employment can be found in clinics, hospitals and various other facilities. She has a tremendous and highly valuable amount of experience and knowledge and uses these to ensure care is improved for patients, their loved ones and entire communities. The role of the clinical nurse leader has to do with creating excellent quality of care, as well as enhancing safety.
About the Clinical Nurse Leader
The role of a clinical nurse leader has been recognized by the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nurses). The role came about to stop various errors in health care facilities from occurring. These errors have often caused deaths and injuries in patients. But now, they are experts in different types of patients and settings, thereby reducing the chances of errors occurring. Clinical nurse leaders become team leaders, educators and advocates for patients. Furthermore, they focus on analyzing systems and on managing outcomes. If there is ever a nurse trying to get a new system in place, for instance, it is likely to be a clinical nurse leader.
To become a clinical nurse leader, someone has to be motivated to make a true difference in health outcomes in general and their workplace in particular. They have to have the courage to lead and to search for evidence-based practices to find new ways to improve outcomes. They have to be confident about their knowledge and expertise. Naturally, a clinical nurse leader also has to be an excellent communicator, a true team player and a critical thinker.
In terms of education, clinical nurses have to take part in training to become a registered nurse. This can be an associate’s degree (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree (BSN), after which they can take the licensing examination. After this, they must obtain a master’s degree (MSN). Some schools now offer direct entry MSN programs for those who have not yet obtained their BSN, but these are very rigorous programs. For an MSN degree, students must take part in between 100 and 200 clinical nursing hours, before they can become certified. Generally, they will have to choose their specialization, such as Adult/Gerontology, Core, Home Health, Pediatrics and so on.
What Jobs Does This Lead To?
Because clinical nurse leaders are true experts in specific fields, they will generally find employment in the field they have specialized in. They will deliver some bedside care, but their role is far more focused on improving outcomes. As such, they will work together with social workers, doctors, nurse specialists and pharmacists to ensure appropriate care processes are in place. They evaluate the data that they have collected on patient outcomes and try to find ways to improve these by managing and advocating change. They are often at the head of a full unit, managing other nurses within their settings. As such, their role is also about ensuring other nurses have safe and clear assignments and that they are qualified to complete these. Managing others is also very important and they will advocate for those working under them to ensure they have sufficient training, knowledge and opportunities.
There are numerous settings in which it is likely to find a clinical nurse leader and they will generally have a variety of jobs as well. Private clinics and acute care institutions, research facilities and hospitals are all locations in which these specialists are found. They often work as nurse teachers, sometimes in medical colleges and other times in health settings outside of academic institutions. They will implement, monitor, develop and improve educational programs for each of these settings.
Some of the most popular jobs for clinical nurse leaders include:
- Clinical Nurse Manager
- Clinical Liaison
- Clinical Wound Specialist
- Clinical Administrator
- Post-Acute Clinical Navigator
The salary prospects for clinical nurse leaders are very good, with a national median annual wage of $84,000. However, the role is reasonably new and currently focuses on the improvement of patient outcomes. This means that there is an expectation that these professionals will develop and implement new policies and procedures. If this is measured as delivering a positive change in terms of health outcomes, it is likely that salaries will grow as well.
The pay grade for clinical nurse leaders is much higher than that of registered nurses. This is due to their extensive knowledge and the scope of their job, which goes above and beyond that of registered nurses. By comparison, the average annual wage for a registered nurse is $65,470. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a sharp growth is expected in both demand for nursing professionals and salaries. It is believed wages will grow by as much as 20% by 2022.
Job Outlook for Clinical Nurse Leaders
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing profession can expect an above average growth over the next 10 years. It is believed that the demand for clinical nurse leaders will be even greater, as it becomes obvious how important their role is in terms of developing safe and cost-effective procedures in health care. Because these experts are needed in order to create new policies and procedures, the entire healthcare system is likely to change with greater requirements for those with more extensive knowledge.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated growth for all nursing professions to be 19% by 2022. However, it is known that most health care facilities are now looking for professionals with higher degrees (MSN and Doctorate), which means that the demand for those with this type of education, including the clinical nurse leader, is likely to be even higher. Furthermore, as the population ages and becomes less healthy due to obesity and obesity-related problems, there will be an increased demand for specialized knowledge. Furthermore, these issues will also require a new approach to health care delivery, again increasing the need for clinical nurse leaders.