Clinical Nurse Specialist Career Guide

    Nurse looking at patient notes

    A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) since one must complete graduate-level education and clinical training in order to practice.

    Earning the credentials to become a clinical nurse specialist is a fantastic career move when you consider the projected employment opportunities and the potential salary.

    You'll also provide a higher level of patient care and perhaps take on a supervisory role within a healthcare team. More and more, these nurses are playing an important part in an increasingly complex healthcare system.

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    Part One What Is A Clinical Nurse Specialist? 

    Clinical Nurse Specialists must begin their careers and gain experience as Registered Nurses (RN) before they can transition into this advanced position. Once additional schooling of at least a master’s degree and other requirements are met, clinical nurse specialists take up work in one of many highly specialized areas.

    According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS), an estimated 69,017 RNs have the education and credentials to practice as a clinical nurse specialist. And the majority of CNSs (71%) focus their practice in adult or gerontology care.

    According to, clinical nursing may focus on:

    • A unique population of patients, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, or women’s health
    • A specialized setting, such as ER or critical care
    • A specific disease, such as diabetes or cancer
    • A particular care type, such as psychiatric or rehabilitation
    • A specific type of health condition, such as pain, stress, burns, or wounds

    Regardless of the specialty area, all clinical nurse specialists are experts at diagnosing and treating illnesses, according to, and help guide their nursing staff in their practice.  

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    Part Two CNS Salary: How much do Clinical Nurse Specialists Make?  

    As of May 2017, the average base salary for clinical nurse specialists was $97,511, according to Clinical nurse specialists’ earnings can vary depending on the specialized unit and employer.

    Some clinical nurse specialists may be highly sought after by hospitals and medical facilities that have a specific role to fill, and therefore, salaries might be more competitive.

    In fact, some institutions might even hire highly specialized travel nurses to meet their demand, offering clinical nurse specialists an additional option. 

    Part Three What Is The Career Outlook For a CNS? 

    In general, the nursing profession will offer job security for many years to come as the population continues to age. There is also a nursing shortage expected since so many current nurses will be entering retirement age in the next few years. 

    What’s more, for those with advanced nursing skills, like clinical nurse specialists, job openings are expected to increase even more. APRN jobs, which include clinical nurse specialists, are expected to increase by 31 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Part Four How Do You Become A Clinical Nurse Specialist?  


    Becoming an Advanced Practice Nurse happens after gaining experience as a Registered Nurse. To become an RN, you have to graduate from a program of study that is approved by your State Nursing Board, either a bachelor’s degree or associate degree program. Upon completion, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN. 


    It’s necessary to go back to school to earn at least Master’s of Science in Nursing degree, focused on a clinical nurse specialist track. However, one in 10 CNSs also chooses to complete their doctorate degree, according to NACNS.


    There are a number of CNS certifications you can pursue, depending on the field you want to work in. Each of them is administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. CNS certifications include Adult Health CNS, Pediatric CNS, Public Health CNS, and more. Certifications usually need to be renewed every few years. 

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    Part Five What Does A Clinical Nurse Specialist Do? 

    Clinical nurse specialists’ jobs vary by specialty and the type of facility in which one works. However, it’s fair to say that most CNSs split their day between caring for patients and working behind the scenes with other nurses and staff members.

    In fact, according to an NACNS survey, CNSs said they spent 25 percent of their day providing direct patient care, 20 percent consulting with nurses, 19 percent teaching nurses, and 14 percent leading evidence-based practice projects.

    In other words, CNSs wear several hats and are a valued member of healthcare teams.

    Part Six Where Can I Learn More About Clinical Nurse Specialists Jobs? 

    To learn more about what it takes to excel as a CNS, start with the professional organization that is dedicated to the subspecialty:

    National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists – NACNS is a professional organization that aims to advance the unique expertise and value the clinical nurse specialist contributes to health care.

    Part Seven Where Are the Highest Paying CNS Jobs?

    High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As an RN or NP, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve. Click here to see today’s best nursing opportunities.

    Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist is a lot of work, but with that title comes a rewarding and lucrative career. If your goal is to take your RN career to the next level, look into becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist.

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