Nurses looking to enter advanced practice and interested in a leadership role need look no further than a clinical nurse leader. This type of specialty nurse has vast knowledge in general medicine and acts as a valuable resource to an interdisciplinary team. Those who want to improve patient outcomes and lead a diverse nursing staff will be well-suited for the clinical nurse leader specialty. Luckily, this new yet growing area of nursing can be accessed via programs across the country.

Choosing a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Program

Deciding on a clinical nurse leader (CNL) program may seem daunting, but remembering to check schools and programs for the following attributes is a great way to ensure success:


A good clinical nurse leader program will be accredited by local, regional, and/or national accrediting organizations to ensure quality. A few to look for include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Program Cost

Most clinical nurse leader programs list tuition cost by credit. Students can expect to find tuition costs that range from around $600 to well over $1,000 per credit for both Master's and doctoral-level degrees. Since doctoral, or DNP, programs require more credits, these programs tend to be more expensive than a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). Students must also cover the cost of additional fees, textbooks, course materials, and more.

Program Length

Most MSN-level clinical nurse leader programs require around 35 credits, which can typically be completed via part-time or full-time study. Once a student receives their MSN, they can continue to a DNP, which can take another 40 or so credits, depending on the school and program.

Internship/Externship Opportunities

To gain experience, residency programs and other hands-on training can be a valuable part of the clinical nurse leader's preparation. Most schools can help match students with clinical internships and externships, or students can seek them out on their own.

Online/Campus Options

To meet the demands of busy students, many programs offer both online and campus-based clinical nurse leader programs. Some schools will even offer a "hybrid" program, allowing students to take many courses online but also offering classroom-based lectures and labs.

Clinical Nurse Leader Degree Levels Offered

Most CNLs receive their Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). Upon becoming a clinical nurse leader, some nurses choose to go back to school to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. A bachelor's degree and experience as a professional nurse is usually required in either case.

MSN Programs

The most common choice for a clinical nurse leader, MSN-level programs in the specialty prepare RNs to become advanced-practice generalists, taking courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical outcomes management, and more. The program also typically requires approximately 400 clinical hours. As an example, LaSalle University in Philadelphia offers a CCNE-accredited MSN Clinical Nurse Leader program.

DNP Programs

While specific clinical nurse leader DNP programs are hard to find, some schools offer bridge programs for MSN-educated clinical nurse leaders to earn a doctoral degree in a related field. For example, the University of South Alabama offers an MSN to DNP Clinical Nurse Leader Bridge to Executive Nursing Administration, designed specifically for CNLs to earn a DNP in executive nursing administration so that they can further their practice.

Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

With technology playing a bigger role in higher education these days, it's no surprise that online clinical nurse leader programs are rising in popularity. Nurses who want to enter advanced practice are typically busy and may have work or family obligations that make completing a traditional classroom program impossible. Luckily, there a variety of reputable online options available.

Advantages of Online Programs

Many students enjoy the convenience and flexibility that online programs afford, as they can move through the coursework on their own time and at their own pace. Others are grateful for the ability to complete their degree in large part at home, making it ideal for those who may live far away from a university. Unlike campus-based students, online students don't have to factor in the cost of transportation, gas, parking, and other commuting expenses.

Program Accreditation

Like campus-based programs, online clinical nurse leader programs can (and should be) properly accredited. A good online program will typically be CCNE or ACEN accredited.

Costs and Length

Online clinical nurse leader programs require the same amount of credits as classroom programs at around 35 credits, but students usually have the option of moving through the coursework at their own speed, making total length a variable factor. Tuition for online clinical nurse leader programs is also similar to campus-based programs, and can vary widely depending on the student's school of choice. UMass Amherst, for example, charges $750 per credit for their online MSN Clinical Nurse Leader program.

What Are the Admissions and Certification Requirements?

Admissions requirements for most CNL programs include:

  • BSN from an accredited school
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Transcripts from all colleges/universities attended
  • CV or resume
  • Two professional letters of reference
  • Personal essay
  • Copy of current U.S. RN license

Certification as a clinical nurse leader can be obtained through the Association of American Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and has the following requirements:

  • Must be licensed as a registered nurse
  • Must have graduated from a Master's or post-Master's CNL program

Certification is awarded upon successful completion of the CNL examination. Students in their last term of a CNL education program are eligible to sit for the exam.

List of Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

Clinical nurse leader programs can be found from coast to coast; check out our list to find the right program for you.

Select Your State:


SchoolContact Information
The University of Alabama
MSN Programs
50 University Boulevard East
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
(205) 348-6639


SchoolContact Information
Grand Canyon University
3300 West Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85017
(855) 428-5673
University of Arizona
1305 N. Martin | PO Box 210203
Tucson, AZ 85721
(520) 626-6154


SchoolContact Information
University of Arkensas
MSN Programs
2 East Center Street
Fayetteville, AR 72701
(800) 952-1165
University of Central Arkansas
MSN Programs
201 Donaghey Ave.
Conway, AR 72035
(501) 450-5000


SchoolContact Information
California State University Fullerton
MSN Programs
800 N. State College Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
(657) 278-2011
California State University San Marcos
Graduate Certificate Programs
333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd
San Marcos, CA 92096
(760) 750-4000
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Dr
San Diego, CA 92182
(619) 594-5200
Touro University California
Graduate Certificate Programs
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
(707) 638-5200
UC Davis
4610 X Street Suite 4202
Sacramento, CA 95817
(916) 734-2145
University of San Diego
5998 Alcal? Park
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-4600


SchoolContact Information
Colorado University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
12950 E. Montview Boulevard
Aurora, CO 80045
(303) 724-2152


SchoolContact Information
Fairfield University
MSN Programs
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
(203) 254-4000
Sacred Heart University
5151 Park Avenue
Fairfield, CT 06825
(203) 371-7999
Southern Conneticut State University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
501 Crescent Street
New Haven, CT 06515
(203) 392-7278
University of Conneticut
MSN Programs
231 Glenbrook Rd
Storrs, CT 06269
(860) 486-0876
Western Conneticut State University
181 White Stree
Danbury, CT 06810
(203) 837-8200

District Of Columbia

SchoolContact Information
Georgetown University
3700 O St NW
Washington, DC 20057
(202) 687-0100


SchoolContact Information
Florida Atlantic University
MSN Programs
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
(561) 297-6261
Florida State University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
600 W. College Avenue
Tallahassee, FL 32306
(850) 644-5621
University of Central Florida
12201 Research Parkway, Suite 300
Orlando, FL 32826
(407) 823-2744
University of North Florida
1 UNF Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32224
(904) 620-1000


SchoolContact Information
Augusta University
1120 15th Street
Augusta, GA 30912
(706) 721-9767


SchoolContact Information
Bradley University
DNP Programs
1501 W Bradley Ave
Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 676-7611
Rush University
600 S. Paulina St
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 942-7100


SchoolContact Information
University of Indianapolis
1400 East Hanna Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46227
(317) 788-3368


SchoolContact Information
Morningside College
1501 Morningside Avenue
Sioux City, IA 51106
(712) 274-5000
University of Iowa
MSN Programs
50 Newton Road
Iowa City, IA 52242
(319) 335-7018


SchoolContact Information
Washburn University
1700 SW College Ave
Topeka, KS 66621
(785) 670-1010


SchoolContact Information
University of Kentucky College of Nursing
DNP ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
315 College of Nursing Building 751 Rose Street
Lexington, KY 40536
(859) 323-5108


SchoolContact Information
Louisiana State Univeristy New Orleans
MSN Programs
1900 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 568-4200
University of Louisiana at Monroe
700 University Ave.
Monroe, LA 71209
(318) 342-1640


SchoolContact Information
University of Maryland
655 W. Lombard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 706-6109


SchoolContact Information
University of Massachusetts Amherst
651 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2703


SchoolContact Information
Saginaw Valley State University
MSN Programs
7400 Bay Road University
Center, MI 48710
(989) 964-4000
University of Detroit Mercy
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
4001 W. McNichols Road
Detroit, MI 48221
(313) 993-1245


SchoolContact Information
Montana State University
P.O. Box 173560
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-3783


SchoolContact Information
Creighton University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
(402) 280-2700


SchoolContact Information
University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1664 N. Virginia Street
Reno, NV 89557
(775) 784-1110

New Hampshire

SchoolContact Information
The University of New Hampshire
Hewitt Hall, 4 Library Way
Durham, NH 03824
(603) 862-1177

New Jersey

SchoolContact Information
Rutgers School of Nursing
MSN Programs
180 University Avenue
Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 972-4307
Seton Hall University
400 South Orange Ave
South Orange, NJ 07079
(973) 761-9000
The College of New Jersey
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628
(609) 771-2591

North Carolina

SchoolContact Information
Queens University of Charlotte
MSN Programs
1900 Selwyn Ave
Charlotte, NC 28207
(704) 337-2200
University North Carolina Pembroke
1 University Drive
Pembroke, NC 28372
(910) 521-6000


SchoolContact Information
Cleveland State University
MSN Programs
2121 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 687-2000
The Ohio State University
MSN Programs
1585 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-4041
The University of Toledo
2801 W. Bancroft
Toledo, OH 43606
(800) 586-5336
Xavier University
MSN Programs
3800 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45207
(513) 745-3000


SchoolContact Information
Oklahoma City University
MSN Programs
2501 N Blackwelder
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
(405) 208-5000


SchoolContact Information
Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1601 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 895-2000
La Salle University
MSN Programs
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19141
(215) 951-1000
University of Pittsburgh
MSN Programs
3500 Victoria Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
(412) 624-4586

South Carolina

SchoolContact Information
University of South Carolina Upstate
MSN Programs
800 University Way
Spartanburg, SC 29303
(864) 503-5000

South Dakota

SchoolContact Information
South Dakota State University
MSN Programs
1015 Campanile Ave.
Brookings, SD 57007
(605) 688-4121


SchoolContact Information
Texas Christian University
MSN Programs
2800 S University Dr
Fort Worth, TX 76129
(817) 257-7000
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
MSN Programs
301 University Blvd
Galveston, TX 77555
(409) 772-1011
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio - UT Health San Antonio
7703 Floyd Curl Dr
San Antonio, TX 78229
(210) 567-7000


SchoolContact Information
University of Vermont
MSN Programs
The University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405
(802) 656-3131


SchoolContact Information
Lynchburg College
MSN Programs
1501 Lakeside Dr
Lynchburg, VA 24501
(434) 544-8100
University of Virginia
MSN Programs
225 Jeanette Lancaster Way
Charlottesville, VA 22903-3388
(434) 924-0141


SchoolContact Information
Marquette University
1250 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(800) 222-6544
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
2442 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-1122
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
800 Algoma Blvd
Oshkosh, WI 54901
(920) 424-1234