In This Section

Press Contact

Robert Rosseter
AACN Chief Communications Officer
(202) 463-6930 ext. 231



About the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing 865 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 Awards CNL Visionary Leader and Vanguard Awards

Published March 02, 2015

AACN Awards CNL Visionary Leader and Vanguard Awards to 
Forerunners in the National Clinical Nurse Leader Movement

CNL Education Vanguard Award Presented for the First Time
by AACN and the Commission on Nurse Certification

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 2, 2015 – The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is pleased to announce that Nancy Hilton, Chief Nursing Officer from St. Lucie Medical Center in Florida, is the recipient of the 2015 CNL Visionary Leader Award. The highest honor presented by AACN to practice leaders making significant contributions to advancing the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) initiative, this award was presented at the CNL Summit held in Orlando in late January. The CNL Vanguard Awards, which recognize the innovative work of CNL-certified nurses and CNL nurse educators, also were presented to Lauran Hardin from Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, MI and Dr. Linda Roussel from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“Introducing a new nursing role into the healthcare delivery system takes vision, courage, and leadership,” said AACN President Eileen T. Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN. “AACN commends the groundbreaking work of Nancy Hilton to integrate the CNL into the HCA healthcare system as a mechanism for enhancing care coordination, strengthening outcome-based practice, and enhancing patient safety. We are also very pleased to honor Lauran Hardin and Linda Roussel for illustrating how certified CNLs are re-envisioning team-based care and how academic leaders are working to improve the patient experience through CNL education.”

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.

First presented in 2011, the CNL Visionary Leader Award recognizes the long-standing and substantial accomplishments of an individual to the development, promotion, and integration of the CNL role in U.S. health care. These noteworthy accomplishments are underscored by an unremitting commitment to the education and advancement of the CNL role and to efforts that have helped to maximize and sustain the impact of the role. 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. For the first time this year, the CNL Educator Vanguard Award also was presented to recognize an academic leader for innovative and exemplary efforts to prepared highly qualified CNLs.

The 2015 Award Recipients


CNL Visionary Award

Nancy Hilton, MN, RN, has served for 20 years as the Chief Nursing Officer at St. Lucie Medical Center, part of the HCA healthcare system. An early adopter of the CNL role, Nancy partnered with the College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in 2004 to develop a new master’s program to prepare Clinical Nurse Leaders. In 2007, she presented “Implementing the CNL Role” at the University of Alabama, and has since presented before the Joint Commission, the HCA CNO Council, and the Health Industry Council of North Texas in addition to being a regular presenter at AACN’s annual CNL conferences. Nancy’s work to integrate the CNL into the healthcare delivery system was detailed in her article on “Implementing the Clinical Nurse Leader Role in a For Profit Environment: A Case Study,” which was published in the Journal of Nursing Administration. She also has published several additional articles on outcomes linked to CNL practice. Nancy’s advocacy for healthcare redesign has been instrumental in advancing and sustaining the CNL, not only at her institution, but also in raising national awareness of the CNL’s contribution to improving care.

CNL Vanguard Award

Lauran Hardin, MSN, RN, CNL, works as a Clinical Nurse Leader at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, MI. Since graduating from the University of Detroit Mercy in 2010, her first position was as a pain and palliative care CNL responsible for coordinating care for patients with complex pain needs. In 2012, she began focusing her work on patients with frequent emergency department or inpatient visits. She has created and sustained a care delivery model for this group of patients – called Complex Care Maps – that has improved clinical outcomes, patient and staff satisfaction, and financial outcomes, including significant decreases in the frequency and number of ER visits as well as decreased inpatient length of stay. In addition to this trailblazing work, Lauran mentors new CNLs, has presented her findings in a number of venues, and is disseminating her work to other healthcare systems. 

Honorable Mention: Jessica Hatch, MSN, RN, CNL, is the Health Exchange Integration Manager at Lawrence General Hospital in Lawrence, MA. Respected by her colleagues as a care innovator and role model for professional CNL practice, she has worked to improve patients care by expanding the CNL role in her practice setting. Jessica’s early work as a CNL centered on developing a transition of care process. Her current focus is on using healthcare technology and informatics to support clinical decision making, quality system improvements, population health care, and patient engagement across the care continuum.

CNL Educator Vanguard Award

Linda Roussel, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNL, is a forerunner in the CNL movement who currently serves as a full professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. She recognized early on the need for nurses prepared with the CNL skill set and the role’s potential for addressing significant gaps in health care, particularly in underserved populations. Earlier in her career, Linda developed an online CNL program at the University of South Alabama where she served as program chair. She is co-editor of the first and second editions of Initiating and Sustaining the Clinical Nurse Leader Role, A Practical Guide, which is being used by many education programs and practice settings nationwide. Linda has served as an item writer for the CNL Certification Exam and as a contributor to the CNL Certification Review Course developed by AACN. The education consultant to the Clinical Nurse Leader Association Board, she also has served as a faculty mentor and a consultant with community agencies interested in embedding the CNL into the care delivery system.
Honorable MentionKelly Phillips, PhD, MSN, CNS, CNL, is the program director for the MSN Graduate Entry Clinical Nurse Leader program at The University of Toledo College of Nursing. As one of the program’s founding faculty members, she has been instrumental in shaping innovative curriculum, which uses standardized patients and other forms of simulation as well as a variety of interprofessional experiences to prepare CNLs for collaborative practice. Dr. Phillips facilitates the immersion experiences for CNL students by developing partnerships with practice sites and placing students in a variety of settings. She has presented at multiple conferences and has published on the CNL role.
Presentations delivered by each award winner at the 2015 CNL Summit can be found online
. For the latest news and information about the national movement to the CNL, see the CNL homepage.