Post-Master's Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Graduate Certificate Programs - Campus and Online Post-MSN Programs
Updated: October 15, 2022
Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) graduate certificate programs are non-degree granting academic programs that are designed to provide Registered Nurses (RNs) with the training and instruction required to establish eligibility for the CNL certification process. In addition to requiring applicants to hold a valid and unencumbered RN license, these programs are designed for RNs who have already completed a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program and successfully passed courses in pharmacology, physiology, and patient assessment (the three P’s of nursing). Indeed, it is common for schools to designate CNL graduate certificate programs as post-master’s or post-MSN certificate programs.
Post-master’s CNL certificate programs represent a relatively direct pathway for MSN-trained RNs to become CNLs, bypassing the need to earn an additional master’s degree or repeat coursework already completed as part of an MSN curriculum. Thus, instead of the two or more years it can take to attain eligibility for CNL certification through an MSN program, RNs can prepare to qualify for CNL certification in as little as one year, via a graduate certificate program. This means that an RN with an MSN degree in nursing administration, nursing education, or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) can add a CNL certification without having to enroll in a full master’s program.
Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Explained
The CNL role was created to fill a perceived gap between the top-down, organization-wide strategic planning of nurse administrators and the day-to-day, direct patient care of clinical practitioners. As envisioned by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), CNLs bring practical training and point-of-care leadership, assessment, and management skills into clinical settings, commonly referred to as clinical microsystems. The CNL is thus able to provide direct patient care services and operate as a team member while monitoring quality improvement and safety measures, leveraging the data analytics capabilities of nursing informatics and healthcare IT systems, and implementing the latest innovations in evidence-based nursing practice and patient care.
In addition to providing leadership in areas related to patient safety/quality improvement protocols and the use of nursing informatics, CNLs are trained to take into account population health considerations, such as the social, cultural, and environmental determinants of health, and to perform cost-benefit and risk analyses in patient care settings. Through delegating certain leadership and decision-making responsibilities to CNLs, the aim is to improve the overall practice of nursing, achieve better patient outcomes, and promote teamwork among the physicians, pharmacists, social workers, therapists, RNs, APRNs, and other allied health professionals who provide both point-of-care clinical interventions and follow-up services.
Identifying and Classifying Post-Master’s CNL Graduate Certificate Programs
There are essentially two academic training pathways for CNLs: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs with a CNL specialization; and CNL graduate certificate programs. For RNs who have not enrolled in a master’s program, an MSN with a CNL specialization is the most direct pathway to becoming a CNL. RNs and APRNs who have already earned an MSN degree can attain eligibility for CNL certification through a graduate certificate program, which is shorter and less time consuming than an MSN program.
Thus, the primary identifying characteristics of CNL graduate certificate programs are as follows:
- They provide advanced training in the knowledge and proficiencies associated with the CNL role as defined by the AACN
- They offer a curriculum designed specifically for MSN trained nurses interested in becoming CNLs
- They prepare RNs to sit for the CNL certification exam administered by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC)
These programs are offered by accredited schools and colleges of nursing and are generally designated as CNL graduate certificate, post-master’s certificate, or post-MSN certificate programs.
CNL Graduate Certificate Coursework
The curriculum that comprises a CNL graduate certificate is generally equivalent to the specialization coursework that students complete in a CNL MSN program. This typically amounts to four, five, or six courses plus a supervised clinical practicum, internship, or residency. The academic and clinical training requirements for CNLs are detailed in the AACN’s Competencies and Curricular Expectations for Clinical Nurse Leader Education and Practice. The areas of study outlined by the AACN include: Organizational and Systems Leadership; Quality Improvement and Safety; Translating and Integrating Scholarship into Practice; Informatics and Healthcare Technologies; Health Policy and Advocacy; Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes; and Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving Health. In addition, CNLs are required to have a minimum of 400 hours of supervised clinical experience.
The core topics outlined by the AACN for CNL training form the foundation of a CNL graduate certificate program. Many CNL graduate certificate programs perform a gap analysis for each student entering the program in order to ensure they complete all of the coursework and clinical experiences required for CNL certification. Thus, the exact number of courses required to earn a CNL graduate certificate can vary by student, and the specific course names and descriptions vary by school and by program.
The list below provides a representative overview of the types of courses that students typically take as part of a CNL post-MSN graduate certificate program.
- Foundations for Clinical Nurse Leader – Point-of-care management from a microsystems perspective for the CNL, and leadership in the context of interdisciplinary teams of nursing and healthcare professionals.
- Evaluation of Health Outcomes – Standard models for evaluating health outcomes from the client, provider, and payer perspective, and an examination of the connections between disease management, public policy, and legislation.
- Information Management & Decision Support – Technical and analytical knowledge for the best use of healthcare IT systems and data to improve patient care and support evidence-based decision making in clinical nursing.
- Business Planning for Nurse Leaders – The basic economic principles and business skills that support effective leadership in health care organizations, including budgeting, cost/benefit analyses, and controlling costs.
- Population Health & Care Transitions Management – The environmental, cultural, and social determinants of health in the context of preventative interventions and strategies for promoting the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations, optimizing patient and population health outcomes, and minimizing cost and utilization outcomes.
- Leadership and Quality Improvement in Clinical Microsystems – The clinical microsystems approach to quality improvement in health care, including a consideration of horizontal and vertical leadership in healthcare organizations, self-assessment of leadership attributes, and the establishment of strategies to lead and manage improvement at the microsystem level.
Online Post-Master’s CNL Graduate Certificate Programs
In order to make earning a CNL graduate certificate more convenient for working RNs and expand the reach of programs to students who live and work beyond practical commuting range of a school that offers one of these programs, a number of accredited universities and colleges of nursing offer online post-MSN CNL certificate programs. Online programs provide all or most of their didactic instruction via learning management systems (LMSs), which are web-based platforms that allow students to access live-streamed or pre-recorded lectures and other interactive instructional activities from anywhere with a secure internet connection.
Students in an online program log on to a school’s LMS for lectures and classes, and to receive and complete assignments. Online CNL students are then typically able to complete their clinical hours in person at sites near their workplace or residence. While some online programs require students to attend one or two on-campus sessions for clinical instruction, in-person lectures, seminars, and/or hands-on workshops, many programs are offered 100% online and do not require campus visits.
One potentially important consideration for RNs who intend to earn a CNL graduate certificate via an online program is the mode of instruction. Some online programs utilize synchronous instruction, which is the technical term for lectures, presentations, and virtual class meetings that take place in real time and thus require students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at particular times in order to participate. Other programs rely solely on asynchronous instruction, which does not have a real-time component and encompasses a wide range of learning modalities, including pre-recorded lectures, instructional modules, and other assignments that can be completed at a student’s convenience, provided that the student adheres to course deadlines.
Programs that mainly use asynchronous instruction require self-motivation and self-discipline in order to keep up with course materials in the absence of regularly schedules lectures and discussions. However, they provide maximum scheduling flexibility for students who cannot attend regularly scheduled online lectures each week. Students who would prefer a more structured online learning experience may want to look for programs that utilize regularly scheduled synchronous class meetings.
It is important to note that some online CNL graduate certificate programs may not accept students from all 50 states. Therefore, it is thus advisable to contact a program administrator regarding any state restrictions prior to submitting an application to a program offered by an out of state school.
Examples of Online Post-MSN CNL Certificate Programs
The section below provides details on several CNL graduate certificate programs that are currently offered in an online format. These examples are meant to provide an overview of the types of programs that are available, common curricular requirements, and typical admissions policies.
Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA offers a Clinical Nurse Leader Post-Master’s Certificate program through its College of Nursing and Health Professions. This is a 30-credit graduate certificate program that is designed to be completed in two years. All of the program’s didactic coursework is offered online, although students are required to attend campus-based intensives at the start of each of the program’s two required practicums. The total number of supervised clinical hours required by the program is 400. Required courses include: Epidemiology in Action: Tracking Health & Disease; Evaluation of Health Outcomes; Advanced Integrative Clinical Concepts; and Foundations for Clinical Nurse Leader. To be eligible for the CNL graduate certificate offered by Drexel, applicants must hold an unrestricted RN license and an MSN degree with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.7 or higher on a four-point scale.
Queens University of Charlotte has an Online Clinical Nurse Leader Post-Master’s Certificate program that consists of 17 credits of graduate coursework and practicums. Students in the program take three didactic courses that are offered online and then complete a six-credit CNL residency consisting of 400 hours of supervised internship experiences. The program’s required courses include: Leadership Principles and Practices; Management of Clinical Outcomes; and Management of the Care Environment. Applicants to the program are expected to hold a valid RN license and to have completed an MSN program. The certificate program is designed to be completed in as few as three semesters of full-time study, although students are permitted to enroll on a part-time basis and take four or more semesters to finish the program requirements.
The University of Detroit Mercy has a Clinical Nurse Leader Post-Master’s Certificate program that is designed for MSN-trained RNs who graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher on a four-point scale and have at least 2000 hours of professional experience as an RN. Certificate program applicants are also expected to have taken MSN-level Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pathophysiology, and Advanced Pharmacology courses, although a gap analysis is performed on each student entering the program in order to determine the exact number of courses they must complete in order to qualify for CNL certification. RNs who meet all of the curricular prerequisite requirements for the post-master’s certificate complete a 19-credit curriculum that includes 400 hours of site-based internships and six online courses: Information Management & Decision Support; Outcomes Management & Decision Support in Nursing; Management of the Healthcare Environment; Business Planning for Nurse Leaders; Population Health & Care Transitions Management; and Leadership and Quality Improvement in Clinical Microsystems. This program is designed to be completed in two years.
More Clinical Nurse Leader Graduate Certificate Programs
|California State University San Marcos||San Marcos, CA||Clinical Nurse Leader Post-MSN Certificate|
|Drexel University||Online||Clinical Nurse Leader Post-Masters Certificate|
|Moravian University||Bethlehem, PA||Post-Master’s Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate|
|Morningside University||Sioux City, Iowa||Clinical Nurse Leader Post-MSN Certificate|
|Queens University of Charlotte||Online||Clinical Nurse Leader Post-Master's Certificate|
|Southern Connecticut State University||New Haven, CT||Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Post Master's Certificate|
|University of Detroit Mercy||Online||Clinical Nurse Leader - Post Master's Certificate|
|University of Rochester||Rochester, NY||Post-Master’s Certificate Clinical Nurse Leader|