Clinical Nurse Specialist
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Clinical Nurse Specialist Careers

By Candice Mancini
Published on December 7, 2009.

Job Duties

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in a specific area of nursing. Specialized areas include different types of diseases, medical environments, patients, or procedures. Some common specializations include:

  • Diabetes
  • Operating room services
  • Emergency room services
  • Geriatric patients
  • Pediatrics
  • Surgical procedures

The clinical nurse specialist functions as an expert clinician, educator, consultant, case manager, and researcher in the area of her expertise. This makes the job duties of the clinical nurse specialist very diverse. On any given day, a clinical nurse specialist might engage in some of the following tasks:

  • Writing a medical order that follows established protocols
  • Developing the implementation of nursing care plans specific to the needs of the patient
  • Helping patients and their families find and evaluate information related to the patient's health and wellness
  • Writing and publishing scholarly works
  • Collaborating with clinical nurses and other healthcare providers to solve complex situations for specialty needs of patients

Job Skills

Clinical nurse specialists must have excellent verbal and written communication skills and work well collaboratively. They must be academically minded and be self-motivators, since they need to stay focused and up-to-date on their chosen area of expertise, researching and publishing in their field. As they might supervise others in their jobs, clinical nurse specialist should have strong leadership and managerial skills.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median 2008 salary of registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, was $62,450. Salaries ranged from $43,410 to $92,240, largely depending on industry, employer, education level, and experience. Many employers pay higher salaries to registered nurses who become clinical nurse specialists because they must obtain higher levels of education and because they can offer a wealth of knowledge in their chosen fields of expertise.

Training and Education

There are three main paths to becoming a registered nurse. The most common route is to complete either an associate degree or bachelor's degree program offered at a college, university, or community college. These programs typically take four years for a bachelor's degree or two to three years for an associate degree. Some hospital-based diploma programs are also available, although these are less common than they once were. Diploma programs usually take three years. In addition to this education, registered nurses must also pass the nationally recognized NCLEX-RN examination to become licensed.

To become a clinical nurse specialist, you must additionally complete a master's or doctoral degree. Although state requirements vary, a master's degree is the minimum educational requirement. During your graduate degree, you take courses in your chosen field of expertise, such as cardiology or critical care. A master's degree typically takes two years to complete, while a doctoral program can take three to five years. If you enroll in an accelerated BSN to MSN or BSN to doctoral program, you can often complete your degree in less time.


According to the BLS, registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, held over 2.5 million jobs in 2008. Registered nursing jobs are prevalent in all areas of healthcare, including doctors' offices, nursing homes, home health service agencies, and hospitals. Due to their degree of specialization, many clinical nurse specialists' jobs are found in hospitals.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growth of 23 percent in job opportunities for registered nurses in coming years. By 2016, the BLS predicts there should be nearly 3.1 million RNs working in the U.S. If these predictions are on track, more registered nursing jobs will have been added during this time than any other occupation. The increasingly aging population and the overall growth of healthcare are major contributors to the increased need for nurses.

About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.
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