Clinical Nurse Specialist – Certification, Salary, Online Programs, Job Description

What is Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A registered nurse who possesses expertise in a specific field of nursing care such as pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency care, oncology, etc., is known as clinical nurse specialist. Prerequisite traits and skills that a candidate must have for this position are – complex problem-solving skills, social perceptiveness, service orientation, judgment as well as decision making, mentoring, and team-building skills. If you want to know how to become a clinical nurse specialist, refer to the information given below in this article.

Education Requirements

If you want to become a clinical nurse specialist, it is necessary that you meet all the requirements given below:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • State license as a registered nurse
  • Working experience of 1 to 2 years as an RN
  • Clinical nurse specialist master’s degree from an accredited program
  • Advanced practice nursing license from state nursing board

Types of Clinical Nurse Specialists

Advanced practice registered nurses with a master’s or doctoral degree in a specialty of nursing practice i.e. clinical nurse specialist can expertise in following clinical fields:

1. On the Basis of Population

This criterion comprises of specialties like pediatrics, geriatrics and women’s health.

  • Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist – Nurses, who have expertise in pediatrics are known as pediatric clinical nurse specialists. They understand the complexity of pediatric health care and provide advanced care to the children and their families.
  • Geriatric Clinical Nurse Specialist – Geriatric clinical nurse specialist focuses on the development and execution of treatment for the acute illnesses of elderly people suffering from diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disorders, etc. With this, they also counsel the family members of the patients. Qualities like enhanced direct patient care, leadership and interpersonal skills, consultation, education and research are essential for a geriatric clinical nurse specialist.
  • Women’s Health Clinical Nurse Specialist – The clinical nurse specialists for women’s health get the chance to share their expertise with a dedicated team in the Labor and Delivery unit or Mother and Baby unit. They also work on the enhancement of clinical knowledge and performance within the nursing staff.

2. On the Basis of Setting

This sphere covers the critical care and emergency room nurses.

  • Critical Nurse Specialist for Critical Care – Nurses who serve critically ill adults, pediatric, and neonatal patients are known as critical care nurse specialists. They assist the doctors in emergency departments like trauma, critical care, and intensive care units.
  • Emergency Room – This is a high level of clinical nursing practice which requires intensive knowledge and judgmental skills to meet all the complex nursing requirements needed in an emergency nursing setting. They play a crucial role within the department and provide support and guidance to the rest of the staff.

3. On the Basis of Disease or Medical Subspeciality –

The clinical nurse specialists can be categorized as follows:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist for Diabetes – These nurses look after the patients suffering from diabetes. They provide a high-level of clinical expertise and advanced care to the patients. They also assist medical teams and staff. Even after discharge, if the patients under the supervision of the specialists need some changes in their regular diabetes treatment like starting insulin, changes in their medication or present insulin, they arrange a discharge appointment too after a week.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist for Oncology – Oncology clinical nurse specialists are the nurses who are trained in advanced clinical practice, leadership, research, and education for adult cancer control and acute oncology care settings. They look after the health habits, life, physical environment and community of the cancer patients and play a significant role in the management and prevention of their disease.

4. On the Basis of Care

Clinical nurse specialists are of 2 types on the basis of the care they provide.

  • Clinic Nurse Specialist for Rehabilitation – Clinical nurse specialists are the professionals who specialize as rehabilitation nurses and deal with the patients suffering from temporary, constant, and permanent illness. They are an important part of the rehab team which may have many groups such as Primary Care Physician, Physical Therapist or a Spiritual Counselor.
  • Psychiatric Care Clinic Nurse Specialist – Specialty nurses, who are trained and skilled to enhance the condition of individuals and patients suffering from mental disorder or illness, are known as the psychiatric care clinical nurse specialist. They are also named as Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist. They do research, educate other nurses and perform clinical leadership. They need to undertake more responsibilities as compared to registered nurses such as examining the mental health of the patient, other disorders, and psychiatric problems.

5. On the Basis of Health Problems

It comprises of nurses who specialize in wounds, pain, and stress.

  • Wound Care Clinical Nurse Specialist – Nurses, who specialize in dealing with surgical wounds, diabetic ulcerations, pressure ulcers and other areas of the body that are infected are known as wound care clinical nurse specialists.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist for Pain Management – They are the nursing specialists who support the individuals and patients suffering from any chronic pain. Also, they help other nurses to evaluate their work and practice.

6. Perinatal Clinical Nurse Specialist

Perinatal clinical nurse specialists care for the childbearing family and are trained to perform all the advanced and critical issues of the perinatal patients. Improvement of the nursing knowledge, research, community awareness, consultative services, and high-quality patient care help the perinatal clinical nurse specialists to improve the clinical outcomes.

7. Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialist

The nurses who treat the victims of crime and sexual assault incidents are known as forensic clinical nurse specialist. Forensic clinical nurse specialists are involved in advanced forensic nursing science, influencing legislation, and collaborating with other healthcare, developing policy, social services, and criminal justice system professionals. This specialization demands physical strength as they need to stand most of the hours in a day for the treatment of their patients.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Step 1 – Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

The very first requirement to become a clinical nurse specialist is a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. This course basically includes pharmacology, pathophysiology basics, patient health evaluation, anatomy, and nursing throughout all the stages of life. You also get a chance to do hands-on practice in the clinical setting.

Step 2 – State License as a Registered Nurse

Before entering into a CNS graduate degree program, it is a must for the candidates to be licensed as a registered nurse. Many states want the aspirants to clear the National Council of Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, while some states may have some additional state nursing board licensure requirements. If you already have a license in one state, you can apply for one in another state by endorsement.

Step 3 – Gain Working Experience

There are many clinical nurse specialist programs that demand experience as a registered nurse in the area which you have opted for specialization. You are supposed to have 1 to 2 years of direct patient experience in clinics. You can also gain the experience by working as an RN in hospitals, outpatient settings, or private practices.

Step 4 – Earn Master’s Degree from an Accredited Program

Master’s degree program for the clinical nurse specialists takes 2 to 3 years to complete. However, the duration depends on the specialty you have chosen. With this, students develop advanced practice nursing skills like assessment, nursing practices, pathophysiology, pharmacology and other exceptional skills. Candidates can obtain supervised clinical experience in their opted field of specialization.

Step 5 – Apply for Certification

All clinical nurse specialists do not have a certification credential available. These certifications are for clinical nurse specialists in critical care (by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses), orthopedics (by the Orthopedic Nurses Certification Board), adult health, gerontology, psychiatric, home health and community health (by the American Nurses Credentialing Center), and also for oncology (by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation). The eligibility and qualification for each certification are different and generally they want the candidate to be a registered nurse who has completed the graduation from an accredited program in the opted specialty, passed the certification exam and has gained the clinical experience in their chosen field.

Step 6 – Gain Advanced Nursing Practice License from State Nursing Board

Many states want the clinical nurse specialist to be certified or licensed by the state nursing board. Basic requirements include registered nurse license, graduation from an accredited advanced nursing school, and certification from a well-known clinical nurse specialist certification authority.

Working Environment of a Clinical Nurse Specialist

A traditional work environment for a CNS is the acute care setting, but now, their importance in the non-acute care is on a hike. As CNS holds a broad-based expertise, it allows them to work in private practices, universities, private businesses, clinics, homes, hospitals, home care systems and other similar settings.

The role of a CNS depends on the individual’s area of specialization. The responsibilities of a CNS in a university or corporate setting is entirely different from a CNS in an oncology clinic. Their five regular principal duties involve clinical practice, teaching, research, management, and consulting.

They can work in:

  • Specialized doctor’s offices or clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Geriatric facilities
  • ERS
  • Community centers
  • Colleges
  • Laboratories
  • Health care facilities

Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

If you cannot join a classroom program, you can opt for online clinical nurse specialist programs. Search for such programs, get course description, program information, and other online requirements and register for it.

Online programs available for CNS is a hybrid of off-campus and resident coursework. Most of the programs are scheduled keeping in mind the working nurses. The complete clinical hours are usually accessible at the workplace of the nurses. An online clinical nurse specialist program comprises courses in pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology.

Before enrolling in any online program, one must ensure that it is accredited by the authenticated agency.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary

Depending upon the geographic location and experience, salaries for clinical nurse specialists may range from $40,000 to $150,000.

As per, the salary of clinical nurse specialist was $71,000 as of March 04, 2016. This pay is similar to the salaries for the jobs posted at the national level.

Average Salary of Professionals with Related Job Titles

Medical Records Field Technician$44,000
RN Clinical Nurse Specialist$94,000
RN Clinical Education Specialist$60,000
RN Medical Device Specialist$153,000
Clinical Educator Garza Unit$76,000
RN Case Manager Hospital$55,000
Nursing Program Specialist$46,000
LPN Cma Rma$30,000
Clinical Nurse Specialist$63,000
RN Practitioner$102,000
LPN Charter House$28,000
LPN Long-term Care$33,000
Clinical Documentation Specialist$69,000
RN Travel Corrections Contract$56,000

Information Source:

As per, clinical nurse specialists earned the median annual salary of $81,952 (as of Jan 16, 2016). Clinical nurse specialists having an experience of 0-5 years earned a median salary of $78K. The average pay for CNS with 5 to 10 years of experience was $81K. The average salary of professionals with 10 to 20 years of experience was reported to be around $88K.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2012 and 2022, there will be a growth of 19% in the jobs for clinical nurse specialists. Easy access to the healthcare services is one of the reasons for this growth. Those having a bachelor degree in nursing will enjoy better prospects.

List of Top Universities Offering Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

  • Auburn University at Montgomery
    Address – P.O. Box 244023, Montgometry, AL 36124-4023
    Contact no. – 334 –244-3000
    Official Website
  • University of South Alabama
    Address – Mobile, Alabama 36688
    Contact no. – 251-460-6101
    Official Website
  • Grand Canyon University
    Address – 3300 West Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85017
    Contact no. – 855-GCU-LOPE
    Official Website
  • Northern Arizona University
    Address – South San Francisco, St Flagstaff, AZ 86001
    Contact no. – 928–523-9011
    Official Website
  • University of Arkansas
    Address – Fayetteville, AR 72701
    Contact no. – 479– 575-2000
    Official Website
  • California State University, Dominguez Hills
    Address – 1000 East Victoria Street, Carson, CA 90747
    Contact no. – 310–243-3696
    Official Website
  • University of Delaware
    Address – Newark, DE 19716
    Contact no. – (302) 831- 2792
    Official Website
  • Idaho State University
    Address – 921 South 8th Avenue, Pocatello, ID 83209
    Contact no. – (208)–282-2475
    Official Website
  • Rush University, Chicago
    Address – 600 South Paulina Street, Chicago IL 60612
    Contact no. – 312–942-5000
    Official Website
  • University of St. Francis, Joliet, Illinois
    Address – 500 Wilcox Street, Joliet, IL 60435
    Contact no. – 800–735-7500
    Official Website
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