James Madison University

A Well-Rounded Degree

By: Sydney Palese
Posted: May 6, 2014

PHOTO: JMU Nursing students and faculty

As the Department of Nursing says goodbye to their first graduating cohort from the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) program, they are also looking towards the future of this dynamic and well-rounded degree.

Dr. Patty Hale, the director of the graduate program, said the Master’s of Science in Nursing Clinical Nurse Leader program has the potential to equip students with several transferable skills. She explained that while many advanced degrees within the nursing field are focused on specialty populations, the CNL program offers more of a generalist emphasis.

“The job opportunities upon graduation are wide,” Hale said. She added that these opportunities could be within the realm of public health, clinics, and hospitals and may include roles as a nurse educator.

This generalist approach to the program offers students the opportunity to be fluent in the processes of many microsystems (e.g., emergency room, specialty clinics, etc.) within the health field, because the key concepts taught in the program are a unique blend of advanced nursing practices, nursing theory, analysis of research, and a “soft skills” such as teamwork, leadership and effective communication.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the CNL role was developed in the early 2000s in order to “engage highly skilled clinicians in outcomes-based practice and quality improvement strategies.” Since then, the role has evolved into one that “is a leader in healthcare delivery across all settings,” though not necessarily that of administration or management.

Dr. Margaret Bagnardi, an associate professor in the program, said that CNLs differ from nurses who hold Bachelor’s degrees in that they tend to look at research in a more detailed way, analyze processes in depth, focus on communication on a big picture scale, consider theory in their everyday decisions, and use data to influence change.

PHOTO: JMU Nursing student

Bagnardi added that nurses who typically pursue their CNL degree are those who want to receive advanced education, but also want to maintain interaction with patients. She said the CNL is a perfect fit because while the position offers a broad scope of education, it also keeps the focus on the patient.

“It’s all about patient outcomes,” Bagnardi said. “The patient is our partner.”

To maintain this, CNLs will work to keep the quality and safety of a patient’s stay by ensuring that the duration of their time there is as efficient and organized as possible. She added that there is an emphasis on the use of technology to increase patient outcomes.

Students in the program are currently getting hands-on experience with this by spending time in a health setting and assessing and analyzing that setting’s processes.

Heather Galang, a graduate student in the program, said, “The CNL practicum experience was probably the single most effective learning experience throughout the program”. 

“The fact that the practicum experience was similar to that of a first CNL job and not that of a final graduate made the experience invaluable.  The practicum experience truly challenges us to take leadership and responsibility within a clinical setting and to experiences the challenges, barriers, and delays in quality improvement while simultaneously finding solutions to those challenges, barriers and delays.”

The CNL program strives to ingrain the “Five P’s” Patient, Processes, Purpose, Professionals and Patterns into the students.

The “purpose” aims to set priorities based on the microsystem’s mission statement, while the “processes” and “patterns” help CNL’s focus on creating efficiency within their setting. The “patients” and “professionals” keep the emphasis on the people within the microsystem first by making patients outcomes the best they can be by having fluent and effective communication among staff, while the “professional” aspect ensures that “every member of the microsystem is equal in contribution.”

These standards help CNL’s assess the effectiveness of their microsystems.