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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.

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’s Acclaim platform to provide CNLs with a digital version of their credential. Learn More About CNC’s Digital Badging.

Value of the CNL

Over 90% of CNLs report being valued as employees because of their Clinical Nurse Leader knowledge and skills and 97% report being able to apply their CNL knowledge and skills into their current role. Earning the CNL certification:

  • Validates a high level of professional achievement and exhibits your commitment to the profession
  • Demonstrates proficiency and a broad base of knowledge beyond RN licensure
  • Proves that you met set standards and have knowledge of the profession
  • Assures the public that you are well prepared for safe practice
  • Promotes lifelong learning and professional development

When a professional earns the CNL credential, it reflects a deep personal commitment and sense of accountability, inspiring credibility and confidence in an individual's professional knowledge.

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.


Commission on Nurse Certification, Volunteer Opportunities Inquiries
Shantal Johnson
CNC Director
(202) 370-3608

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.