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Clinical Nurse Specialists

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are advanced practice nurses who specialize in a particular field of care including medical-surgical, oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and psychiatric-mental health, among others. With a unique blend of clinical and administrative skills, Clinical Nurse Specialists provide patient-centered, evidence-based care to help improve the quality of healthcare and patient outcomes. Read on to learn more about the definition and role of a Clinical Nurse Specialist.

What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice nurse who specializes in a particular field of care, such as medical-surgical, oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and psychiatric-mental health, among others. CNSs have specialized knowledge and skills in their particular area of practice, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of the healthcare system, patient care standards, and disease processes. As a result, CNSs are uniquely positioned to help improve patient outcomes and the overall quality of healthcare.

What are the Responsibilities of a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Clinical Nurse Specialists are responsible for a variety of tasks depending on their specialty. In general, CNSs provide direct patient care, develop and implement evidence-based practice protocols, coordinate care, and educate other healthcare providers. They may also serve as consultants, provide direct supervision to other nurses, and develop and implement quality and safety initiatives. In addition, CNSs may have administrative responsibilities such as developing policies and procedures and budgeting.

What Skills and Education do Clinical Nurse Specialists Need?

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with specialized knowledge and skills in a specific patient population, disease, or treatment modality. They play a vital role in the healthcare system by providing expert care and consultation to patients, families, and other healthcare professionals.

Education: To become a Clinical Nurse Specialist, individuals must hold a current registered nursing license and a Master’s degree in nursing with a specialization in their chosen area of focus. Many CNSs also hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Ph.D. in nursing. The education programs for CNSs are designed to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to function in this advanced practice role. The curriculum generally includes core courses in advanced nursing practice, healthcare systems, and healthcare policy, as well as specialized courses in the student’s chosen area of focus.


  • Advanced Clinical Skills: CNSs possess a high level of clinical knowledge and expertise, which enables them to provide highly specialized care to patients.
  • Leadership: CNSs often act as leaders and advocates within their healthcare teams and are responsible for developing and implementing patient care protocols and standards.
  • Research: CNSs use research findings to improve patient outcomes and provide evidence-based care. They are skilled in conducting research, evaluating outcomes, and using data to inform practice decisions.
  • Education and Mentoring: CNSs are often responsible for educating and mentoring other healthcare professionals, including nurses, physicians, and other APRNs.
  • Critical Thinking: CNSs can make complex decisions based on their specialized knowledge and expertise. They are skilled in analyzing data, identifying problems, and developing solutions.
  • Communication: CNSs must have excellent communication skills to communicate effectively with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. They must be able to convey complex information clearly and concisely.
  • Patient advocacy: CNSs are patient advocates; they work to ensure that patients receive the best possible care and treatment.
  • Professionalism: CNSs must maintain a high level of professional conduct and ethics. They must be able to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals, and they must be able to maintain patient confidentiality.

CNSs are highly educated, skilled, and knowledgeable healthcare professionals who play a vital role in providing high-quality care to patients. The skills and education that CNSs possess enable them to provide expert care, conduct research, and mentor other healthcare professionals. They are in high demand, and the job outlook for CNSs is very positive.

What Certifications are Required to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Clinical Nurse Specialists must be licensed registered nurses in their state and hold a master’s degree in nursing. They must also be certified in their specialty by a recognized certifying body, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). In addition, some states may require Clinical Nurse Specialists to be certified in a specialty area such as oncology or geriatrics.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary & Employment Outlook 

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) are an essential part of the healthcare system, with a unique role that encompasses both direct patient care and research and practice improvement projects. Their goal is to advocate for high-quality care and achieve the best patient outcomes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth for advanced-practice RNs, including CNSs, is expected to rise 31% by 2024. The growing demand for healthcare, the emphasis on preventive care, and an aging population drives this increase.

A survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 59,242 CNSs in the United States, making them the second-largest group of advanced-practice RNs. Additionally, over 90% of CNSs report feeling moderately-to-extremely satisfied in their jobs.

As healthcare organizations strive to maintain sustainability during potentially turbulent political times, they are turning to CNSs to help balance the delivery of cutting-edge, quality care with cost efficiency. As a result, CNSs are becoming a highly sought-after resource for employers.

According to salary.com, the median salary of clinical nurse specialists as of June 2017 is $99,550, with a range of $89,999-$109,045. However, salary can vary depending on location, additional certifications, experience level, and the organization. Overall, becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist is a rewarding and in-demand career choice with excellent job satisfaction.