<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-TJCKC2" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden"></iframe> MSN: Clinical Nurse Leader | Drexel Online

For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

  • MSN: Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

    ***While we reimagine this program, we are not currently accepting applications. We encourage you to explore similar programs, including the MSN: Nursing Education, MS: Quality, Safety and Risk Management, MSN: Quality, Safety, and Risk Management, and MSN: Undeclared.***

    Drexel University’s CCNE-accredited MSN: Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) program is for working nurses who want to grow their career. Today’s healthcare industry is changing, and with it, the advanced generalist role is evolving.

    The clinical nurse leader master’s program draws on areas from biostatistics and business to health promotion and quality assurance. It builds the clinical skills and knowledge needed at this point of direct patient care. This means understanding how to translate theory and research into actionable, ethical decisions in order to measure health outcomes, work on health teams, customize care, and more.

    Clinical Nurse Leader Program at a Glance

    • 45 quarter credits (the equivalent of 30 semester credits)
    • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredited program
    • Flexible scheduling of clinical practicum in a variety of settings
    • Ranked #41 in 2020's Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs by U.S. News & World Report
    • Ranked #16 in 2020's Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs for Veterans by U.S. News & World Report
    • Prepares you to sit for the national CNL exam through the Commission on Nurse Certification

    Clinical Nurse Leader Degree Program Features

    Graduates of Drexel’s online clinical nurse leader degree program may be eligible to sit for the national CNL exam through the Commission on Nurse Certification. The CNL® is a unique advanced generalist credential that recognizes certified Clinical Nurse Leaders.

    In fact, graduates of our program have a 100% pass rate in the CNL exam. You’ll be able to work toward this goal without giving up your nursing career.

    Our online format is perfect for busy nurses and is highly interactive. You’ll be challenged and engaged while learning from experienced and board-certified faculty from our acclaimed College of Nursing and Health Professions.

    Archived Webinar

    What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

    A Clinical Nurse Leader is a master’s educated nurse who specializes in creating and coordinating long-term care plans for patients and the patient’s interdisciplinary medical team. As a Clinical Nurse Leader, you will be prepared for practice across the continuum of care within any healthcare setting.

    What is the role of a Clinical Nurse Leader?

    The Clinical Nurse Leader role is not one of administration or management and is a recent addition to advanced nursing. In fact, it is the first new nursing role in over 30 years.

    It was first proposed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in 2004. They were interested in addressing many of the issues facing today’s healthcare system, including patient safety and quality of care.

    After several years of research and discussion, the Clinical Nurse Leader emerged. As an asset to the nursing profession, it involves highly skilled clinicians in outcomes-based practice and quality improvement strategies.

    What Does a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Do?

    CNLs lead, guide, and support other nurses so they can provide the best, safest care.

    Deals with Patients
    A CNL knows how to apply research-based information into actions that benefit patients within a unit or setting. However, they are less likely to interact with a specific patient.

    Understands Technology
    CNLs make sure patients benefit from the latest innovations in care delivery.

    Is Outcomes Focused
    CNLs collect and evaluate patient outcomes.

    Assesses Risks
    CNLs have the decision skills to understand risks and assess suitable care plans.

    A CNL functions as part of an interdisciplinary healthcare team.

    CNLs communicate, plan and implement care directly with other clinicians (including clinical nurse specialists (CNS), nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists, and social workers).

    Problem Solves
    CNLs have the knowledge and skills to identify issues and seek solutions by looking at the big picture and processes.

    Is Research-Oriented
    CNLs analyze data and discover new ways to help patients.

    On-Campus Requirement

    To help you prepare for your clinical practicum experience, you’ll participate in an exciting short two day on-campus residency. Utilizing Drexel’s state-of-the-art simulation lab, you’ll have the opportunity to build proficiency, develop hands-on experience, and practice your recently acquired quality, safety, and risk management skills during case studies designed specifically for your potential new roles.

    Given the current pandemic, we are temporarily conducting the on-campus experience virtually via Zoom. We will continually monitor the situation to determine when we can bring students to campus again.

    Clinical Practicum for the Clinical Nurse Leader Program

    A key component of the clinical nurse leader online program is the required clinical practicum. The practicum requires a total of 400 hours and is divided between three quarters. Each practicum quarter is offered once per year and each practicum quarter requires a specific number of hours. These experiences provide the opportunity to deepen your clinical skills. At the same time, you will able to develop extra competencies relating to the management of clients’ healthcare needs at the point-of-care. Precepted clinical experiences will include activities such as:

    • Modeling of care
    • Assessment and evaluation of combined patient outcomes
    • Case management and service integration
    • Unit and interdisciplinary team leadership
    • Teaching and mentoring of staff

    How Much Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Make Per Year?

    As a CNL is a relatively new nursing role, up-to-date Bureau of Labor Statistics data regarding CNL salary expectations are not readily available.

    However, PayScale's research reports that Clinical Nurse Leaders earn median annual salaries of $76,547. The lowest 10% on the range earned $52,000, while the highest 90% group earned $106,000.

    You can expect nursing salaries to vary by region and workplace setting. For example, CNLs in the state of Pennsylvania earn between $96,000 and $129,000.

    The following visualization maps out the potential earnings for different nursing roles and education levels:

    Nursing Career

    Median Annual Salary

    Job Growth Through 2026

    Entry-Level Education


    15% (Much faster than average)

    BSN, AND, or Diploma


    31% (Much faster than average)

    MSN or DNP


    20% (Much faster than average)

    Masters or MSN

    Can a Clinical Nurse Leader Become A Nurse Practitioner?

    Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are distinct designations for RNs. While both complete an MSN program – or Doctor of Nursing Practice for some NPs – the chosen specialization is different.

    Consequently, national certification and state licensing board requirements differ:

    • The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and its Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) oversee CNL certification. The CNC administers a CNL certification exam for RNs who have completed a master’s level clinical nurse leader program and have a valid RN license.
    • NPs must apply for state licensure as an NP or APRN, depending on the state. Several professional organizations, including the ANCC and American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), award certifications. Nurse Practitioners must take a certification exam in their area of specialization (e.g. Family Nurse Practitioner) with the appropriate body.

    What is the Difference Between a Clinical Nurse Leader and a Nurse Practitioner?

    Clinical Nurse Leaders receive general clinical training and education in certain administrative aspects of nursing. They offer direct treatment to patients as part of their regular practice. As such, the nursing world considers a Clinical Nurse Specialist to be a clinical generalist who coordinates patient care.

    Nurse Practitioners undergo specific clinical training in one of many nurse practitioner specializations. These include areas such as adult gerontology, family, neonatal, pediatric, psychiatric/mental, and women’s health. In the nursing world, Nurse Practitioners are advanced practice clinical specialists with highly focused training in one area.

    Related Programs

    Questions? We're here to help!

    For application related questions:

    For program related questions:
    College of Nursing and Health Professions Program Team

    Drexel University offers a variety of Graduate Minors that can be added to any master's degree program.
    State restrictions may apply to some programs.
    The MSN program at Drexel University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.


    This program is organized into four 10-week quarters per year (as opposed to the traditional two semester system) which means you can take more courses in a shorter time period. One semester credit is equivalent to 1.5 quarter credits.

    Graduate students who utilize student loans (FAFSA) muct maintain a minimum enrollment of 4.5 credits per term.

    MSN Core Courses  
    NURS 500 Confronting Issues in Contemporary Health Care Environments 3.0
    NURS 502 Advanced Ethical Decision Making in Health Care 3.0
    NURS 544 Quality and Safety in Healthcare 3.0
    RSCH 503 Research Methods and Biostatistics 3.0
    RSCH 504 Evaluation and Translation of Health Research 3.0
    Support Courses  
    NURS 574 Advanced Integrative Clinical Concepts 4.5
    NUPR 664 The Economics and Business of Healthcare 4.5
    Track Courses  
    NURS 531 Epidemiology in Action: Tracking Health & Disease 3.0
    NURS 532 Evaluation of Health Outcomes 3.0
    NURS 602 Foundations for Clinical Nurse Leader 5.0
    NURS 603 Clinical Nurse Leader Capstone Immersion I 5.0
    NURS 604 Clinical Nurse Leader Capstone Immersion II 5.0
    Total Credits 45.0

    View a Sample Plan of Study
    View Course Descriptions

    Admissions Criteria

    • A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university
      • BSN degrees must be from an institution accredited by CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education), ACEN (Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing), or NLN CNEA (NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation)
        • Nurses with a non-nursing bachelor's may consider applying for the RN-BSN-MSN program to earn both a BSN and MSN concurrently, or apply to the RN to MSN Bridge Program
    • Cumulative GPA of 3.0
      • If your GPA is lower, you're still encouraged to apply, but should ensure that relevant professional experience is included on your resume. You must also provide two professional letters of recommendation from either previous or immediate supervisors or former faculty members who can attest to your clinical knowledge, skill, and potential aptitude for graduate study.
    • While specific clinical work and/or volunteer experience is not required, it may make your application more competitive.

    Required Documents

    With multiple ways to submit documents, Drexel makes it easy to complete your application. Learn more by visiting our Completing Your Application Guide.

    • A completed application
    • Official transcripts from all universities or colleges and other post-secondary educational institutions attended (including trade schools)
    • Two professional letters of recommendation from either previous or immediate supervisors or former faculty members who can attest to your clinical knowledge, skill, and potential aptitude for graduate study
      • If you have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, this requirement can be waived
    • Personal statement describing your interest in the program and particular specialty
    • Resume
    • Copy of your United States RN license
    • Additional requirements for International Students

    An admissions interview may be required.


    The tuition rate for the academic year 0-1 is $0 per credit.

    For the academic year 2024-2025, students enrolled in an online graduate academic program will be charged a graduate online program fee of $125 per year.

    • This program is eligible for Financial Aid.
    • Special tuition rates available for Drexel University AlumniMilitary members, and members of our Partner Organizations.
      • These rates apply only to new online students and students being readmitted.
      • These rates apply only to fully online courses. Hybrid or on-campus courses may have different rates.
      • Tuition rates are subject to increase with the start of each academic year in the fall term.
      • All students must contact applyDUonline@drexel.edu within the first two weeks of the term to request tuition savings for which they qualify.
      • Special rates cannot be combined. If you qualify for more than one special rate, you'll be given the one with the largest savings.
      • When receiving special tuition plans with Drexel University Online, you may not combine them with other tuition benefits that may be available from Drexel University.

    Additional Equipment/Lab Fees

    Scholarship Opportunities

    At Drexel, we understand that developing a plan to finance your education is a critical step in your decision-making process. That's why we encourage students who require financial aid to fill out the FAFSA as early in the application process as possible. Learn more about Drexel's financial aid policies. In addition, nursing students are encouraged to visit the AACN to review the many scholarship opportunities that exist through the organization.


    Academic Calendar

    2023-2024 Academic Year


    Classes Begin

    Classes End

    Exams Begin

    Exams End

    Fall 2023

    September 26, 2023

    December 9, 2023

    December 11, 2023

    December 16, 2023

    Winter 2024

    January 8, 2024

    March 16, 2024

    March 18, 2024

    March 23, 2024

    Spring 2024

    April 1, 2024

    June 8, 2024

    June 10, 2024

    June 15, 2024

    Summer 2024

    June 24, 2024

    August 31, 2024

    September 3, 2024

    September 7, 2024


    Apply for admission to Drexel University

    This program is not currently accepting new applicants.

    Previously enrolled at Drexel? Learn more about readmission.

    Any problems? Find help or contact us.