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About the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing more than 850 schools of nursing nationwide. AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education, influences the nursing profession to improve health care, and promotes public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. 



AACN Recognizes 2018 CNL Educator & Vanguard Award Winners

Published February 14, 2018


WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2018 – The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is pleased to announce the latest awardees of the annual Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Awards, which recognize the innovative work of certified CNLs in practice and education. Connie Garrett, MSN, RN-BC, CNL, CNOR, from the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FL will be presented with the CNL Vanguard Award for exemplary practice as a CNL, and Christine Ralyea, DNP, MS-NP, MBA, NE-BC, CNL, OCN, CCRN, from the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC will receive the CNL Educator Award. Both honors will be presented during the opening session of the annual CNL Summit, February 21-23, 2018 in Anaheim, CA.
“Certified Clinical Nurse Leaders are having a great impact on transforming health care and improving patient outcomes across settings where they are deployed,” said AACN Board Chair Juliann Sebastian, PhD, RN, FAAN. “AACN commends the groundbreaking work of Connie Garrett to introduce the CNL role in the perioperative setting within the VA system, and Dr. Christine Ralyea to prepare the next generation of CNLs in the clinical and classroom settings.”
The Clinical Nurse Leader is a fast-emerging nursing role developed by AACN in collaboration with leaders from education and practice to improve the quality of patient care and better prepare nurses to thrive in today’s healthcare system in any setting. These master’s-prepared clinicians put evidence-based practice into action to ensure that patients benefit from the latest innovations in care delivery. The CNL evaluates patient outcomes, identifies risk, coordinates care, and implements quality improvement strategies. 


Connie Garrett    Tina Ralyea 
CNL Vanguard Awardee

Connie Garrett  

  CNL Educator Awardee
Dr. Christine "Tina" Ralyea 


The CNL Vanguard Award was introduced in 2012 by AACN and the Commission on Nurse Certification – the autonomous agency charged with overseeing the CNL certification process – to recognize the innovative and outstanding professional performance of a certified CNL on the frontlines of improving health care. This year’s recipient, Connie Garrett, has been a driving force in validating the CNL role within the VA system and a forerunner in demonstrating how this role can thrive as an essential part of the perioperative healthcare team. She successfully piloted the CNL role at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and documented the CNL’s contributions to positive patient and staff outcomes in the operating room. Ms. Garrett has focused on VA and Joint Commission initiatives to measure the impact of the CNL role, such as prevention of HAIs, pressure injury, and influencing access to care through education of RNs in the operating room. 


Introduced in 2015, the CNL Educator Award recognizes an academic leader for innovative and exemplary efforts to prepare highly qualified CNLs. This year’s recipient, Dr. Christine “Tina” Ralyea, began teaching in the CNL program at Queens University of Charlotte in 2015 after becoming a certified CNL herself. In addition to her educator role, she serves as a full-time nursing administrator and CNL program director at Carolinas Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center. As an avid voice and promoter of the role, Dr. Ralyea recognizes the dire need for the CNL and its potential impact on healthcare and patient outcomes. She tirelessly advocates for the CNL with academic and practice partners, including executive administrators, community advocates, and professional teammates.
For the latest news and information about the national movement to the CNL, see the CNL website.