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Barbara Edwards, MSN, CMS RN, clinical nurse leader (CNL) at St. Lucie Medical Center in Orlando, Fla.

November 2013

Edwards received the 2013 CNL Vanguard Award presented by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) for innovative and outstanding professional performance as a CNL.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?

A. I enjoy the connections that I make with my patients and making a difference one person at a time. Sometimes when a nurse pursues an advanced degree, it means leaving the patient’s bedside, and I’ve always been passionate about patient care. However, when I heard about the CNL role, I became excited about the opportunity for advanced knowledge while also being able to focus on the delivery of patient care at the bedside.

As a CNL, I am able to partner with patients and their families, and assist in interdisciplinary communication and care coordination. I work to ensure that evidence-based practices are being utilized in order to help enhance patient outcomes and reduce patient complications.

Q. What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being a clinical nurse leader?

A. For me, the most rewarding aspect of being a clinical nurse leader is being able to demonstrate to the staff the impact of evidence-based practice (EBP). I believe CNLs allow for greater innovation in the nursing industry. Sometimes there will be a new initiative at an organizational level, but when you get down to the bedside where people actually practice, it is hard to make the change happen every day, every shift.

For example, at St. Lucie Medical Center, we’ve been working to prevent hospital-acquired infections for patients with central lines and foley catheters. At first it was difficult to get the nursing staff on board with reducing catheters, especially for team members who had been practicing a different way for many years. However, with EBP we were able to show that limiting the use of foley catheters dramatically reduced the number of infections – the EBP helped get the entire team invested in the change. Our facility has since been able to steadily decrease the number of patient-acquired infections.

The most challenging aspect is the juggling of CNL priorities, including direct patient care, staff development and process design, as well as ensuring EBP is occurring for each patient. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the little details, so it’s important to keep the big picture – your ultimate goal – in mind.

Q. Why do you think the role of the clinical nurse leader is important?

A. CNLs are in a unique position to play a lead role in healthcare and the move towards wellness and preventative care in the United States. We assist the entire multidisciplinary team by facilitating care and communication with the patient, helping meet the patient’s individual needs as they relate to healing and health maintenance. Trying to prevent re-occurrence of the disease and being proactive in healthcare management is inherent in the relationship a CNL develops with his or her patient.

Q. What advice would you give to nurses interested in becoming a clinical nurse leader?

A. I would recommend they reach out to a practicing CNL, in addition to contacting their university faculty. The role is relatively new, so there is often confusion about how CNLs function. In fact, the role of a CNL is the most recent role to be added to the profession of nursing since the nurse practitioner in the 1950s. I think that by speaking with a practicing CNL, no matter what kind of practice site they are interested in, they will get a better idea of how the role works and what we do.

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