Clinical Nurse Leader Salary: How Much Can a CNL Expect to Earn?

Clinical Nurse Leader Salary: How Much Can a CNL Expect to Earn?

Clinical nurse leaders work to improve patient care quality in diverse healthcare settings. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) developed the CNL certification to address several needs including care coordination, interprofessional communication, and risk assessment.

CNL positions may appeal to nurses seeking job satisfaction, increased salary, and career growth. Registered nurses can pursue an MSN degree with a concentration in clinical nurse leadership and then take the AACN exam to become certified.

This page details the nuances of clinical nurse leader salary figures. We also explore how education, experience level, and location impact CNL earning potential.

What Does a Clinical Nurse Leader Do?

Clinical nurse leaders take on nursing management roles in healthcare facilities like hospitals, community health centers, and veterans health administration offices. Their responsibilities often include improving patient care and advancing their organization’s medical operations. These leadership roles best suit ambitious, highly organized RNs.

Experienced nurses may enjoy CNL positions if they want to coordinate treatment plans, collaborate with staff, and make a positive impact on their environments. Follow the links below to learn more about clinical nurse leaders’ duties and responsibilities.

Read More About Clinical Nurse Leaders A Day in the Life of a Clinical Nurse Leader

How Much Can You Earn as a Clinical Nurse Leader?

RNs seeking career advancement should take note that the average clinical nurse leader salary offers a significant pay bump. According to PayScale, as of July 2021 registered nurses garnered an average annual salary of $66,410, while clinical nurse leaders earned $83,180 per year as of June 2021.

The AACN classifies the CNL specialty as non-advanced practice registered nurse (non-APRN).This designation means that the CNL role emphasizes teaching, healthcare system improvement, and staff management over specialized medical practice.

While not as lucrative as some nurse practitioner positions, CNL roles offer leadership opportunities and the potential to create positive change.

Average Annual Salary, 2021

Clinical Nurse Leaders


Source: PayScale

Mean Annual Wage, 2020

Nurse Practitioners


Source: BLS

Clinical Nurse Leader Salary by Experience

Since CNL positions reward experience and leadership, the average clinical nurse leader salary shifts over time. CNLs make an average of $36.79 per hour. However, that figure increases based on years of experience. Over the course of a long career, CNLs can earn closer to $42 per hour.

Find the CNL average hourly pay by years of experience in the table below. Average total compensation typically includes bonuses and overtime pay.

Annual Salaries by Experience for Clinical Nurse Leader, 2021

Years of Experience Average Hourly Pay
Early Career (1-4 years) $32.26
Mid Career (5-9 years) $35.66
Late Career (10-19 years) $38.85
Experienced (20+ years) $41.74
Source: PayScale

CNL Salary by Education

Becoming a CNL requires graduate-level education. Many CNL programs prefer candidates with a bachelor of science in nursing and several years of clinical nursing experience. CNL hopefuls can earn their master’s degree with a clinical nurse leader concentration. Graduates must also earn CNL certification through AACN.

Clinical nurse leader salary varies based on education as well as experience. A master’s degree typically qualifies CNLs for higher pay than RNs, including BSN graduates, but CNLs can earn even higher salaries by pursuing further education.

Doctoral degrees like a PhD in nursing science can support nurse leaders in their goals for career and salary advancement. Earning a PhD may also help CNLs perform essential functions like improving staff education, assessing risks, and creating budgets.

The following table includes hourly and annual wage data for several nursing degrees. This data represents all respondents who hold these degrees, including CNLs.

Average Salaries by Education, 2021

Education Level Average Hourly Wage Average Annual Wage
Registered Nurse $30.45 $66,410
BS Nursing $33.01 $87,000
MSN Clinical Nurse Leader $35.54 $90,000
PhD Nursing Science $67.41 $97,440
Source: PayScale

Clinical Nurse Salary by Location

A clinical nurse leader’s salary can also depend on location. Urban areas with high population density tend to offer more employment opportunities and competitive pay. Locations with high median ages also require more healthcare facilities with specialized staff. Additionally, some states with higher costs of living offer larger compensation packages.

States like New York, Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin offer some of the highest clinical nurse leader salaries. The following tables detail compensation figures by location for CNLs and nurse practitioners.

Top-Paying States for Clinical Nurse Leaders, 2021

City, State Average Hourly Wage Percent Above the National Average
New York, New York $51.50 / hour +40%
Fort Worth, Texas $45.68 / hour +24%
Chicago, Illinois $43.75 / hour +19%
Boston, Massachusetts $43.00 / hour +17%
Milwaukee, Wisconsin $41.81 / hour +14%
Source: PayScale

Prospective CNLs should take note of the percentage paid above the national average, especially since not all of these states require the same cost of living.

Though New York and Massachusetts remain expensive to reside in, Texas, Illinois, and Wisconsin offer cost of living indexes below the national average. Professionals in these states can earn high clinical nurse leader salaries while taking advantage of inexpensive living.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Practitioners, 2020

Metropolitan Area Number of Nurse Practitioners Employed Annual Mean Wage
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 160 $188,070
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 2,080 $177,800
Salinas, CA 70 $155,310
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 970 $153,240
Napa, CA 40 $152,640
Source: BLS

Top-Paying States for Nurse Practitioners, 2020

Top-Paying States Employment Annual Mean Wage
California 15,100 $ 145,970
New Jersey 5,800 $ 130,890
Washington 3,720 $ 126,480
New York 14,850 $ 126,440
Massachusetts 6,430 $ 126,050
Source: BLS

Explore All States

Clinical Nurse Leaders’ Job Outlook and Career Prospects

Clinical nurse leaders hold a unique position in healthcare because they offer both managerial guidance and patient support. In the growing healthcare industry, CNLs benefit from increased career opportunities and salary prospects.

Clinical nurse leaders hold a unique position in healthcare because they offer both managerial guidance and patient support.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for nurse practitioners to grow 45% from 2019-2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth adds about 117,700 new nursing industry jobs. With this rise in nurse practitioner employment, healthcare facilities also need more leaders to facilitate change and guide nursing staff.

CNLs everywhere benefit from the growing need for nursing leadership, but factors like location, industry, and setting may impact clinical nurse leader salary and employability.

Nurse Practitioners

Change in Projected Employment

+45% from 2019-2029

Source: BLS

Best Locations for Clinical Nurse Leader Jobs

Determining the best locations for clinical nurse leaders depends on salary, job opportunities, population density, and demand. As listed above, several states offer considerably higher clinical nurse leader salaries than the national average.

The BLS projects strong growth in the nursing field from 2019-2029, but some areas require more nursing professionals than others. Cities and states with greater population density and higher median ages offer more job opportunities for nursing professionals.

Top States for Clinical Nurse Leaders

States with high median age need specialized geriatric facilities and highly trained nurse leaders who can optimize patient care. Clinical nurse leaders who want to work in geriatric care might consider pursuing employment in Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Vermont, or Florida since these states have the oldest median ages in the country as of 2021.

Employment rates and annual mean wage by state also offer useful information. The following data focuses on the broader category of nurse practitioners, rather than CNL figures specifically, but offers useful insight into the working climate for nurses in these states.

Top-Employing States for Nurse Practitioners, 2020
Top-Employing States Number of Nurse Practitioners Employed Annual Mean Wage
California 15,100 $145,970
New York 14,850 $126,440
Texas 14,680 $116,700
Florida 13,010 $101,060
Ohio 9,430 $105,630
Source: BLS

States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Nurse Practitioners, 2018-28

State Percent Projected Change, 2018-28 Average Annual Openings
Greatest Projected Percentage Increase
Arizona +50.9% 200
Colorado +44.7% 330
Georgia +41.4% 660
New York +41.3% 1,640
Florida +36.9% 1,110
Most Projected Average Annual Openings
New York +41.3% 1,640
California +30.5% 1,390
Texas +31.9% 1,170
Florida +36.9% 1,110
Illinois +31.1% 760
Source: Projections Central

Projected employment increase can help prospective CNLs get a picture of the job market in various locations. While the BLS projects nationwide employment growth, each state experiences this growth differently. Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia are projected to experience more concentrated growth, but New York, California, and Texas are projected to need the most employees to fill their increased open positions.

Nurse Practitioner Annual Mean Wage and Employment by State, 2020


Source: BLS

Learn More About Nurse Practitioner Programs by State

Top Cities for Clinical Nurse Leaders

A metropolitan area comprises a large population center plus adjacent communities that share economic and social integration. These densely populated areas need a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, community health centers, urgent care centers, and nursing homes.

Since clinical nurse leaders can take on management roles in any of these facilities, they may enjoy numerous job prospects in metropolitan demographics. The following data applies generally to nurse practitioner roles, including CNLs. These figures detail the number of nurses employed and the annual mean wages they receive in metropolitan areas.

Top-Employing Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Practitioners, 2020
Metropolitan Area Number of Nurse Practitioners Employed Annual Mean Wage
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 13,760 $133,380
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 4,950 $126,930
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 4,760 $112,010
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 4,740 $107,090
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 4,550 $142,770
Source: BLS

Best Industries for CNL Jobs

Clinical nurse leaders can hold leadership positions in many healthcare settings. Some of the top employers of CNLs include ambulatory care centers, hospitals, public health organizations, and home health agencies. CNLs may want to work in specific industries to follow their own personal interests or to pursue the highest-paying positions.

CNLs may prefer certain settings based on their past experiences as RNs. Additionally, CNLs who specialize in a type of medicine like pediatrics, midwifery, or gerontology may prefer to work in specialized practitioner clinics.

Some healthcare sectors pay more than others due to job responsibilities and complexity. The following tables include data on the employment rates and annual mean wages for nurse practitioners including CNLs.

Top-Paying Industries for Nurse Practitioners, 2020

Top-Paying Industries Employment Annual Mean Wage
Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services N/A $143,480
Religious Organizations N/A $131,710
Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities 910 $130,830
Social Advocacy Organizations 40 $127,970
Outpatient Care Centers 18,920 $123,850
Source: BLS

Employment by Industry for Nurse Practitioners, 2020

Industries with Highest Employment Employment Annual Mean Wage
Offices of Physicians 101,220 $111,310
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 49,920 $118,210
Outpatient Care Centers 18,920 $123,850
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools 6,970 $108,060
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 6,170 $112,040
Source: BLS

Upward Mobility for Clinical Nurse Leaders

Many RNs want to advance their career mobility without losing touch with patient care. CNL roles allow nurses to take on management responsibilities while continuing to interact with other nurses, patients, and staff. These positions may also open doors to administrative positions.

Earning CNL certification enables professionals to work towards promotions with even higher earning potential. Employers often prefer RNs with leadership experience for higher managerial roles in healthcare administration.

After working as a CNL, nursing professionals can attain employment as nurse administrators or even nurse executives.

  • Nurse Administrator: These professionals oversee nursing departments, private care facilities, and assisted living facilities. Nurse administrators rely on their expertise and experience to lead and instruct nurse teams.
  • Nurse Executive: These senior managers supervise many healthcare facilities. Nurse executives make staffing decisions, collaborate with nursing professionals, and manage facility budgets.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do all CNL careers pay well?

    On average, CNLs earn higher salaries than RNs. However, CNL salaries vary depending on factors such as location, education level, and years of experience.

  • What is the starting salary of a clinical leader?

    In the first 1-4 years of employment, clinical nurse leaders earn an average total compensation of about $32 per hour as of July 2021.

  • What is the difference between a clinical nurse specialist and a clinical nurse leader?

    The main difference between these roles lies in the type of service they provide. A CNL supervises and directs in a leadership capacity, whereas a CNS treats and prescribes in a clinical setting.

  • Can you go from being a CNL to an NP?

    An NP is an APRN specialty, meaning that they provide clinical patient care. A CNL is a non-APRN certification, meaning that they provide education and manage staff. These career paths run parallel, but with the right training, a CNL could become an NP.

Featured Image: FlamingoImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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