Background: Clinical ladder programs (CLPs) have been part of the nursing profession for nearly 4 decades. However, the structure and implementation of CLPs vary widely throughout healthcare systems. CLPs are a valuable factor in nurse retention and employee satisfaction initiatives, but globally replicating and measuring their impact is difficult due to lack of standardization. Aim: To identify opportunities for global standardization of CLPs through a systematic review of published evidence and facility-sourced CLPs applications and program documents. Method: This study used a systematic literature search and scan of existing programs from facilities within the United States (US), Lebanon, and Ghana obtained through professional ties and organizational membership. Results: Seventy-nine articles were screened with 30 studies identified for inclusion, plus 20 CLPs from the US and international facilities. Identified commonalities were the lack of consistency in the number of clinical levels across the CLPs, eligibility requirements and application process, reward and recognition, lack of emphasis on technology and informatics, and missed opportunities to use CLPs to drive a culture of safety. The administrative burden of the programs and the time required by the nurse to complete the CLP application were rarely referenced. Linking Evidence to Action: The lack of consistency between facilities and across the healthcare sectors limits the measurable impact CLPs have on the nursing profession. Recommendations for practice include developing a standardized professional development framework. A standardized framework will encourage adoption of a retention tool that will provide the profession with a measurable method to demonstrate the value it brings to patient care. Providing guidance to health care facilities in low-and middle-income countries on the implementation of a professional development framework will assist in closing the global gap of professional development opportunities for nurses.

Publication Date


Content Type


Publisher's Site:

View at Publisher Website

Additional Authors:

Additional authors and institutional affiliations


This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2023 The Authors. Worldviews on Evidence-based Nursing published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Sigma Theta Tau International.

Open Access

Available to all.