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:
- Critical care
- Psychiatry/Behavioral health
- Community Health
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.
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.
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?$46,390+$59,370+$72,350+$85,320+
- Median Hourly Wage: $40
- Salary: $81,952
Nurses are in Demand
- 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
Continuing Education for Clinical Nurse Specialists
Certification Resources for Clinical Nurse Specialists
Clinical Nurse Specialist National Organizations
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.
- Governors State University Online MSN Adult Health Care CNS
- Kent State University Online MSN Adult-Gerontology CNS
- Loyola University Chicago Online MSN CNS
- Old Dominion University Online MSN – Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Regis College Online MSN Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist- Adult Gerontology
- University of Colorado Online MSN
- University of South Alabama Online MSN Adult-Gerontological CNS
- University of Southern Indiana Online MSN Adult-Gerontology CNS
- University of Texas Austin Online MSN Adult-Gerontology (AG) CNS
- University of Virginia Online MSN Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
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!