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CNL Certification

The Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Certification Program is managed by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC), an autonomous arm of AACN, and governed by the CNC Board of Commissioners. CNC recognizes individuals who have demonstrated professional standards and knowledge through CNL certification. The CNC Board of Commissioners and staff are solely responsible for the policies and administration of the CNL Certification Program.


Why You Should Earn the CNL Certification

Ask a certified Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) why you should earn the certification and they'll tell you that becoming a CNL is one of the single most important steps you can make in your nursing career.

Take a look at the reasons why you should earn the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification:

  • Demonstrates commitment to nursing. Earning the CNL certification shows your peers, employers, and the public your commitment to nursing and that you have met set competencies and standards. CNL certification sets you apart as a leader and active member of the interdisciplinary health care team.
  • Enhances the nursing’s image. CNC through its CNL certification program seeks to grow, promote, and develop certified CNLs who can stand as examples of excellence nursing.
  • Reflects achievement. Becoming a certified CNL displays excellence in nursing and affirms fulfillment of set standards and requirements.
  • Builds self-esteem. CNC created a set of benchmarks for Clinical Nurse Leaders complete with performance standards, ethics, and career paths. CNLs can control their own professional destiny and find a deep sense of personal satisfaction.
  • Establishes professional credentials. CNL certification recognizes individual accomplishments. Having the “CNL” acronym on your resume, serves as an impartial, third-party endorsement of your knowledge and expertise. When the public seeks qualified nurses to perform certain services, they seek individuals – like you – who have earned the CNL certification.
  • Improves career opportunities and advancement. Being a certified CNL gives you an advantage when being considered for a promotion or other career opportunities. The CNL certification clearly identifies you as a nurse who can adapt to changes in work, technology, business practices, and innovation.
  • Prepares you for greater on-the-job responsibilities. Since certification is a voluntary professional commitment to nursing, it’s a clear indicator of your willingness to invest in your own professional development. Certified CNLs are aware of the ever-evolving nursing environment, and they possess the tools needed to anticipate and respond to that change.
  • Provides for greater earnings potential. As a certified CNL, you can expect many benefits, but in today's working world, salary increases speak for themselves.
  • Improves skills and knowledge. Earning the CNL certification highlights your individual competence by confirming proficiency, knowledge, and career commitment.
  • Offers greater professional recognition from peers. As a certified CNL, you can expect increased recognition from your peers for taking that extra step in your professional development.
Value of the CNL

Earning the CNL certification validates your knowledge, skills, and abilities as a Clinical Nurse LeaderSM. Certified CNLs in the workforce reduce risk and enhance patient protection and public safety. In addition, CNL certification allows employers and other stakeholders to identify individuals with the competencies needed to perform their role or task.

Certified CNLs benefit from:

  • Increased recognition by peers and respect of colleagues in nursing
  • Improved opportunities for employability and advancement
  • Greater confidence in their professional competence
  • Increased professional trust from employers and the public
  • Increased autonomy in the workplace
  • Better compensation and career longevity

Employers benefit from:

  • Qualified nurses for employment or advancement
  • Certification renewal requirements for continued and enhanced competence
  • Commitment to patient safety and quality patient care
  • Reduced risk of errors, accidents, and legal liability
  • Reduced employee turnover and increased job satisfaction
  • Justification for potential compensation differential

Patients benefit from:

  • Objective, independent, third-party evaluation and assessment of professional competence
  • Commitment to patient safety and quality patient care
  • Accountability through ethical conduct standards and a disciplinary process
Definition of a Certified Clinical Nurse Leader

A certified CNL is a master’s educated nurse, prepared for practice across the continuum of care within any healthcare setting in today’s changing healthcare environment. CNLs oversee care coordination, provide direct patient care in complex situations, put evidence-based practice into action, ensure patients benefit from the latest innovations in care delivery, evaluate patient outcomes and assesses cohort risk and have the decision-making authority to change care plans when necessary. The CNL is a leader and active member of the interdisciplinary health care team. The implementation of the CNL role will vary across health care settings.

What is CNL Certification?

Certification is a process by which a non-governmental agency validates an individual nurse’s qualifications for practice based on pre-defined standards. The purpose of the CNL Certification is to create a unique credential for graduates of master's and post-master's CNL programs. Candidates who meet all eligibility requirements and pass the CNL Certification Examination will earn the credential of “CNL”.

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 assessment of a CNL.

Graduate education is necessary because the CNL must bring a high level of clinical competence and knowledge to the point of care and serve as a resource for the nursing team.

Digital Badging

CNC is committed to providing certified CNLs with the tools necessary to achieve their professional goals. We have partnered with Credly to provide CNLs with a digital version of their credential. Learn More About CNC’s Digital Badging.


CNL Exam Application, Renewal, CNL Research Symposium Inquiries
Nuria Gramkee
Certification Manager
(202) 370-3608

General Questions
CNC Staff


CNC’s Clinical Nurse Leader Certification Program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). CNC is also a proud member of NCCA.