What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

As you look into furthering your nursing career, you may be wondering what a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is and does. A CNS is one of a variety of advanced practice nurses, along with nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, whose training and expertise allow them the opportunity to provide primary and preventative care to patients in need.

Training and Education

In order to become a clinical nurse specialist, you must be a registered nurse with an advanced degree, either a master’s or doctorate, in a specialized area (please see: How Long Does it Take To Get a Master’s in Nursing?). Currently about 93% of those who practice as a CNS hold a master’s degree. Graduate education will require both classwork and a number of hours of supervised clinical practice in the area in which you decide to specialize. Some areas of specialization require certification, though not all do. If you want to become a CNS, it would be a good idea to find out any specific requirements related to your area of specialization within your state.

Areas of Practice and Work Settings

A CNS specializes in a given area of clinical practice. According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS), these fields can be categorized according to the type of population the CNS might work with, the particular medical problem, various medical settings, a given type of care or a certain kind of medical subspecialty or disease. The wide scope of practice possibilities means that a clinical nurse specialist may work in a diversity of settings, though the NACNS reports that about 70% work in inpatient hospital settings. Other settings where a CNS may be found include nursing homes, home health care or ambulatory care.

Although populations that a CNS may work with also vary according to specialty, about 70% of clinical nurse specialists work with adults between the ages of 19 and 85, with about one third of them noting that they work in acute or critical care practice of some kind for adults.

Growing Need and Appreciation for Clinical Nurse Specialists

The role of the CNS is an important one, and is becoming more appreciated in the current health care environment where there is sometimes a shortage of primary caregivers. A clinical nurse specialist is someone who can be at the forefront of patient care, but may take on other crucial healthcare roles too, such as serving as a consultant or teaching expert or by helping to bring about overall changes in the way healthcare is delivered. The NACNS states that improved pain management, higher patient satisfaction and shorter hospital stays are among the many positive results of increased clinical nurse specialists in the healthcare field.

Currently over 69,000 RNs have the training and other credentials to work as clinical nurse specialists, while over 14,000 RNs are qualified to work both as a CNS and a nurse practitioner. While it can take a large investment of time in initial and continuing education, becoming a CNS can provide a great deal of job satisfaction through increased skills and a higher salary. It may also increase your job opportunities, as a clinical nurse specialist is able to provide highly specialized care to patients in need.

Please also see: What Do I Need to Know Before Pursuing an Advanced Nursing Degree?