Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice nursing professional who has trained extensively in a specialty practice area. These specialty areas are based on specific patient populations, treatment modalities, or diagnoses. Some of the more popular CNS credentials include women’s health, emergency, oncology, or pain management. You must earn an MS in nursing (MSN) to obtain these advanced credentials; many CNS practitioners subsequently earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).

With these advanced skills comes an enhanced responsibility. Nurses with a CNS designation commonly hold leadership roles, influence policy decisions, develop patient treatment plans, and educate patients and colleagues. Nurses who aspire to management and administration career paths may find that the rigorous CNS training requirements pay off in positions at the top. As our healthcare industry expands, career opportunities for clinical nurse specialists will rise commensurately. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that CNS positions will increase 31 percent by 2024.

What Does a Clinical Nurse Specialist Do?

Clinical nurse specialists oversee every aspect of their patient’s experience. This begins with assessment, carefully noting the patient’s history and ordering appropriate diagnostic tests. When a diagnosis is made, the CNS develops a treatment plan and establishes treatment goals, educating the patient and their family when necessary. By monitoring the patient’s progress, consulting with other medical professionals, and adjusting treatment plans as necessary, clinical nurse specialists manage treatment plans for their patients from the time they enter their care until they check out.

While direct patient care is the CNS’s first priority, these professionals have a larger role in the clinical environment.

They also supervise nursing departments, setting policy and maintaining regulatory compliance as needed. Many also take an active role in research by implementing new information and establishing standards of practice that benefit the facility as a whole.

Clinical nurse specialists work in medical facilities, whether at a hospital, rehabilitation facility, outpatient treatment center, clinic, or anywhere else. CSN’s can pursue a variety of specialties, including:

  • Pediatrics
  • Critical care
  • Cardiology
  • Psychiatry/Behavioral health
  • Hospice
  • Community Health
  • Gerontology

What Does It Take to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist?



Excellent communication skills are mandatory for CNS professionals. Many of a nurse’s daily tasks require effective communication, including collaboration with physicians, other medical professionals, and administrative staff. The CNS is also responsible for educating patients and their families, and managing subordinates.

Critical thinking

As leaders in the clinical environment, clinical nurse specialists must make informed decisions regarding treatment plans and patient care.


To truly understand their patients’ challenges and treatment goals, clinical nurses should be active listeners. The same holds true for subordinate nurses whom the CNS mentors.

Active Learning

Technology is advancing our knowledge of medicine almost faster than we can assimilate to it. A leader in today’s clinical environment must be able to quickly master new technologies and incorporate them into their decision-making.


Clinical nurse specialists wear many hats. Working as patient advocates, consultants, collaborators, and managers requires nurses to compartmentalize their many duties to complete a variety of tasks successfully over the course of a day.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary Information and Job Outlook

How much do clinical nurse specialists make?

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Average Salary by State This map presents average annual salary for the occupation Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) in each state in the U.S. Average Annual Salary in HI: $88,230 HI Average Annual Salary in AK: $85,740 AK Average Annual Salary in FL: $62,720 FL Average Annual Salary in NH: $65,790 NH Average Annual Salary in MI: $67,180 MI Average Annual Salary in VT: $64,320 VT Average Annual Salary in ME: $63,320 ME Average Annual Salary in RI: $75,510 RI Average Annual Salary in NY: $77,110 NY Average Annual Salary in PA: $66,570 PA Average Annual Salary in NJ: $78,330 NJ Average Annual Salary in DE: $70,160 DE Average Annual Salary in MD: $72,210 MD Average Annual Salary in VA: $63,880 VA Average Annual Salary in WV: $56,390 WV Average Annual Salary in OH: $62,490 OH Average Annual Salary in IN: $58,900 IN Average Annual Salary in IL: $68,030 IL Average Annual Salary in CT: $76,370 CT Average Annual Salary in WI: $65,590 WI Average Annual Salary in NC: $60,030 NC Average Annual Salary in MA: $85,770 MA Average Annual Salary in TN: $57,030 TN Average Annual Salary in AR: $56,480 AR Average Annual Salary in MO: $58,040 MO Average Annual Salary in GA: $62,350 GA Average Annual Salary in SC: $59,670 SC Average Annual Salary in KY: $57,980 KY Average Annual Salary in AL: $56,470 AL Average Annual Salary in LA: $60,230 LA Average Annual Salary in MS: $56,560 MS Average Annual Salary in IA: $54,020 IA Average Annual Salary in MN: $71,450 MN Average Annual Salary in OK: $57,830 OK Average Annual Salary in TX: $68,590 TX Average Annual Salary in NM: $65,790 NM Average Annual Salary in KS: $56,800 KS Average Annual Salary in NE: $57,550 NE Average Annual Salary in SD: $53,970 SD Average Annual Salary in ND: $58,120 ND Average Annual Salary in WY: $60,790 WY Average Annual Salary in MT: $61,810 MT Average Annual Salary in CO: $69,600 CO Average Annual Salary in ID: $60,320 ID Average Annual Salary in UT: $61,100 UT Average Annual Salary in AZ: $71,300 AZ Average Annual Salary in NV: $80,240 NV Average Annual Salary in OR: $82,940 OR Average Annual Salary in WA: $78,540 WA Average Annual Salary in CA: $98,400 CA

  • Median Hourly Wage: $40
  • Salary: $81,952

Source: Data taken from Payscale and The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: September 2016.

Nurses are in Demand

2M 3M 4M 2010 2015 2020 2.74 Million Jobs 3.45 Million Jobs
  • 712,000 New Jobs
  • 495,500 Replacement Jobs
  • 10.2 Million by 2020
  • 26% More Nursing Jobs Expected to Be Created between 2010 and 2020

Source: Data taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: December 2015.

Meet a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Nurse Resources

Clinical Nurse Specialist Job Boards

Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

To become a clinical nurse specialist, you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree. Fortunately for these nurses, there are an abundance of accredited online master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs available. Some schools offer bridging programs designed to prepare working nurses for graduate programs. Other schools have a general MSN degree that graduates can use as preparation for CNS credentialing, or offer programs emphasizing specific CNS specialty areas. Adult acute care and gerontological care, for example, lend themselves particularly well to online study.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of all online nursing programs that can lead to CNS certification. These schools are fully accredited, not-for-profit institutions; however, it’s important to note that not all online schools can say the same. When browsing these or any other online programs, always confirm the school’s accreditation status, business model, and reciprocity within your state.

If you are an accredited, not-for-profit institution that offers an online clinical nurse specialist program and that isn’t listed, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page and proof of accreditation.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

If you notice any errors in the database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us. We will get on it immediately!

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