August 19, 2015

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary and Career Opportunities

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary and Career Opportunities

Salary Overview

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a professional who works as an expert clinician in a specialized area of nursing. A specialty area could be a particular population such as women, a setting like an emergency room, a disease such as diabetes, a kind of care like rehabilitation, or a type of problem such as eating disorders.

A CNS is a registered nurse (RN). The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the number of RN positions will expand 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, a faster-than-average rate. Clinical nurses will be in similarly high demand because they’re able to provide specialized patient care that costs less than services provided by doctor.

RN median pay in 2012 was $65,470. The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing indicates that 69,017 individuals are qualified to practice as clinical nurse specialists and can expect to earn $65,000 to more than $110,000 per year.

Paths to Increase Clinical Nurse Salary

The path to becoming a clinical nurse begins with earning an RN credential, according to Johnson & Johnson . This requires completing an academic nursing program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, to be eligible for a license in the state where a nurse desires to work.

After employment as an RN, the next step is earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with an emphasis on a clinical nurse specialty. Candidates need to pass a Certified Nurse Specialist Exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center . They can choose from 10 exams such as:

  • Adult Health CNS

  • Pediatric CNS

  • Public/Community Health CNS

  • Diabetes Management – Advanced CNS

Results of a census conducted by the National Council of Nurse Specialists showed that more than 1 in 10 clinical nurse specialists holds a doctorate. Many employers provide financial assistance for graduate education. With a doctorate, nurses are able to increase their salaries as nursing educators, lead experience-based practice projects, and conduct research as the primary investigator. Some become administrators.

Clinical nurses can also increase their compensation by working as per diem or travel nurses. In many cases, employers are able to provide financial assistance for housing and relocation costs.

Related Specialties

An individual working as a clinical nurse specialist might develop an interest in these related specialties:

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) are RNs with a master’s or doctoral degree. They provide patients with primary care using hands-on clinical skills. Their focus is generally broader than that of a clinical nurse specialist, although NPs work in many specialties. Among them are geriatric health, mental health, and acute care.

  • Nurse anesthetists use highly developed clinical skills to make surgery pain-free in a variety of settings. These advanced practice professionals must also have at least a master’s degree and typically achieve the designation of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. They enjoy a very high degree of professional respect and autonomy.

  • Nurse midwives are advanced practice nurses who provide hands-on care to women. They perform clinical duties such as exams, prescribing medication, and ordering lab work. They provide prenatal, gynecological, and labor and birth care, plus wellness and health education and counseling. A nurse midwife has earned a master’s degree and is typically a Certified Midwife (CM) or a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM).

Further Your Career

Clinical nurse specialists are highly trained clinicians with many opportunities for increased salary, career advancement, and transitioning to other specialties. They enjoy being in great demand and work in a variety of settings. Their workdays include a great deal of management activities and autonomy. The outlook for this specialty is extremely positive because these nurses are able to assume many duties once performed only by physicians.

Vonda J. Sines is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC area. She specializes in health/medical, career, and pet topics and writes extensively about Crohn's disease. Her work has been published at EverydayHealth, Lifescript,, Yahoo! Health, Catholic Digest, Angie's List Health, and on many more sites.

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