While both Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) and Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs) are graduate-level nurses, their roles differ in several ways.

Clinical Nurse Specialists have a specific population focus in which they specialize. For example, they may concentrate on:

  • Adult or Gerontological Health
  • Acute Care
  • Pediatrics
  • Women's Health
  • Mental Health
  • Community/ Public Health

As clinical experts in these areas, they use evidence-based research to help develop policies and procedures for an organization to improve patient care outcomes. They also remain up-to-date on current recommendations for patient care and treatment and educate staff on best practices. They may participate in or conduct research within their specialty and collaborate with other members of the healthcare team.

Clinical Nurse Leaders work with a more general population, depending on their place of employment. For example, they may work in specific units within a hospital setting. They may work directly with patients and sometimes directly manage nursing staff.

While they may also implement evidence-based practices in their work area, one of the primary roles of a CNL is to provide expertise on cost-effective care. They assess and evaluate barriers to efficiency and work to resolve those issues. Ensuring consistency of care by healthcare workers is essential to this principle.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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