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New Clinical Nurse Leader Role Benefits Patient Care and Quality

 |  By HealthLeaders Media Staff  
   November 03, 2009

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If your organization doesn't employ any clinical nurse leaders, perhaps it's time you did.

Units with CNLs have been shown to have shorter length of stay and readmission rates, improvements in quality and patient safety such as decreased fall and infection rates, and lower RN turnover.

In fact, these master's degree-prepared nurses have been shown to have such a positive effect on patient care and the healthcare environment that the VA has committed to having a minimum of three CNLs at every one of its facilities by 2016.

"These individuals take the evidence that's out there in the literature and help to improve practice, as well as to evaluate patient outcomes," says James L. Harris, DSN, APRN-BC, MBA, CNL, FAAN, deputy chief nursing officer in the office of nursing services at the Veterans Health Administration. "CNLs are individuals who can coordinate care and break down barriers. They can eliminate fragmentation in healthcare."

The CNL role has only been around for a few years, but it is growing at an impressive rate. The position allows nurses to advance professionally while staying in the clinical environment. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, CNLs are responsible for patient outcomes by applying evidence-based practices. They design, implement, and evaluate patient care by coordinating, delegating, and supervising the care provided by the healthcare team.

In the hospital and health system setting, the CNL role should explode as the graduate degree gains popularity and the opportunities presented by this role become better understood. Adding CNL positions prepares organizations to meet quality improvement initiatives and deliver on these goals. CNLs are also uniquely positioned to plan and coordinate care across entire patient populations or service lines, working with the multidisciplinary healthcare team across the care continuum, and helping organizations reduce length of stay and prevent readmissions.

The VA recognized the value of the role five years ago, began encouraging nurses to pursue the degree by offering scholarships, and has seen such good results that it expects to easily meet its 2016 goal.

Harris advises that administrators not think of the CNL role as a replacement position, but rather as one that can be added to an environment to provide a higher level of clinical expertise.

"I see them as the clinical person who keeps the patient processes moving along, freeing up the nurse manager to be able to manage and develop the staff and really be a manager," says Harris.

Karen M. Ott, RN, MSN, director for clinical practice at the office of nursing services at the Veterans Health Administration, says that CNLs drive quality improvement processes and provide the clinical expertise that is desperately needed by bedside caregivers.


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