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Clinical Nurse Specialist


Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses who hold a master’s or doctoral degree in a specialized area of nursing practice. Their area of clinical expertise may be in a:

  • Population (e.g. pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health)
  • Setting (e.g. critical care, emergency room)
  • Disease or medical subspecialty (e.g. diabetes, oncology)
  • Type of care (e.g. psychiatric, rehabilitation)
  • Type of health problem (e.g. pain, wounds, stress)

In addition to conventional nursing responsibilities, which focus upon helping patients to prevent or resolve illness, a clinical nurse specialist’s scope of practice includes diagnosing and treating diseases, injuries and/or disabilities within his/her field of expertise. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care, serve as expert consultants for nursing staffs and take an active role in improving health care delivery systems. Clinical nurse specialists often work in management positions and may also develop or work with a team to develop policies and procedures.

Clinical nurse specialists may also work with research—translating research findings into patient care, evaluating research proposals, overseeing design of evidence-based practice studies, applying research results to practice, or coming up with new evidence-based standards and protocols.

Demand for advanced practice nurses, like clinical nurse specialists, is expected to grow 31% between 2012 and 2022. According to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, clinical nurse specialists are very satisfied with their work, with over 91% being moderately or extremely satisfied.

Working Conditions

There are approximately 72,000 clinical nurse specialists in the United States, practicing in settings across the span of health care delivery systems, including hospitals, clinics, private practice, schools, nursing homes, corporations and prisons. According to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, most clinical nurse specialists work in inpatient hospital settings.

In addition to providing patient care, clinical nurse specialists may work in supervisory roles and in administrative positions. Some clinical nurse specialists provide consulting services for nurses in their organization while others work to improve health care systems.

Salaries for clinical nurse specialists range from $65,000 to over $110,000 depending on specialty and geographic location.

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About a Career as a Clinical Nurse Specialist

About Health Care Careers

The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists has reviewed this profile.

Academic Requirements

Clinical nurse specialists must first get a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and pass the licensing exam to become a registered nurse. Once you do that, it’s a good idea to work for a few years before applying to clinical nurse specialist programs. These graduate programs will take approximately two years to complete. Most programs include clinical courses or practicum training in a setting relevant to the student’s specialty.

You will graduate with a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis in clinical nursing. After completing a clinical nurse specialist program, you may obtain certification by examination in some specialties, including:

  • Adult health
  • Adult psychiatric and mental health
  • Child/adolescent psych and mental health
  • Gerontology
  • Home health
  • Pediatrics
  • Public/community health

In order to practice, you may need to be licensed by your state licensing board.