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Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Area of Concentration

The CNL is a new nursing role developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to improve the quality of patient care and better prepare nurses to thrive in the complex healthcare arena. It is designed for the nurse who wants to make changes in nursing while remaining at the point of care. The University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing offers the Master of Science for the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) online as well as onsite.

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What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

The healthcare industry is facing numerous challenges. These challenges include identifying improved ways to coordinate care across the continuum of health care service, improving patient safety, delivering effective and efficient care in a fiscally responsible manner and testing innovative methods to achieve these goals. The CNL role was created to be a key partner in addressing these challenges.

The CNL is a leadership role designed for nurses who want to make a difference in the clinical setting or provide leadership in educating others to gain these skills. The CNL assumes responsibility for patient care outcomes through the assimilation and application of evidence-based information to design, implement, and evaluate patient-care processes and models of care delivery. The CNL is a provider and manager of care at the point of care to individuals and cohorts of patients anywhere healthcare is delivered by coordinating and supervising the care provided by interdisciplinary team members. This master’s clinical leadership nursing role includes development of skills in precepting, mentoring, and coaching and can be applied in educational as well as clinical settings.

The curriculum is designed to include the required clinical experiences and competencies for the CNL as delineated in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Competencies and Curricular Expectations for Clinical Nurse Leader-Education and Practice. (AACN website) Upon graduation, candidates are eligible to sit for the Clinical Nurse Leader Certification Examination administered by the Commission on Nurse Certification. The CNL certification is based upon a national standard of requisite knowledge and experiences, thereby assisting employers, the public and members of the health professions in the competencies of the CNL.

Graduates of the program are prepared for the following aspects of practice, based upon the AACN Competencies and Curricular Expectations for CNL:

  • Clinical leadership for patient-care practices, including the design, coordination and evaluation of care for individuals, families, groups and populations
  • Participation in identification and collection of care outcomes
  • Accountability for evaluation and improvement of point-of-care outcomes, including the synthesis of data and other evidence to evaluate and achieve optimal outcomes
  • Risk anticipation for individual and cohorts of patients
  • Lateral integration of care for individual and cohorts of patients
  • Design and implementation of evidence-based practice(s)
  • Team leadership management and collaboration with other health professional team members
  • Information management or the use of information systems and technologies to improve healthcare outcomes
  • Stewardship and leveraging of human, environmental and material resources
  • Advocacy for patients, communities and health professional teams

CNL Online

Building on the strength and reputation of its graduate programs, the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing is offering a Master of Science for the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) online as well as onsite.

The interactive online classroom, led by the excellent University of Pittsburgh faculty, provides opportunities for active learning, discussion, problem solving, debating, critical thinking, research, networking, and community building.

All courses can be completed online except for the Clinical Practicum, comprised of 420 hours, which can be completed at a healthcare facility near your home. Pitt Online’s mission is to provide graduate professional programs of the same quality, taught by the same faculty, with the same superb level of support services as their counterparts offered to resident students enrolled on the Pittsburgh Campus. See for additional information.

At this time, the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing IS AUTHORIZED to enroll online students from most US states. Pursuant to state laws and regulations, however, we are currently unable to admit online students from selected states. Please see: ( If your state is listed as one where we cannot enroll students, please contact Pitt Online ( or 412-648-9499) to determine if the status has changed.

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