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Clinical Nurse Specialist


Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are Advanced Practice 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);
  • a setting (e.g. critical care, emergency room);
  • a disease or medical subspecialty (e.g. diabetes, oncology);
  • a type of care (e.g. psychiatric, rehabilitation); or
  • a type of health problem (e.g. pain, wounds, stress).

In addition to the conventional nursing responsibilities which focus upon helping patients to prevent or resolve illness, a CNS’ 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 hand in improving health care delivery systems. 

For more information about becoming a CNS, see the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists website.

Working Conditions

There are approximately 69,000 Clinical Nurse Specialists in the United States, practicing in settings across the span of healthcare delivery systems. CNS salaries range from $50,000 to over $100,000, depending upon the clinical specialty and geographic location in which he or she is practicing. The job market is excellent; in fact, the current demand for CNSs far exceeds the supply.

Academic Requirements

In order to be accepted into a Clinical Nurse Specialist program, you must already be a Registered Nurse

Search for schools that provide training for this career.

After completing a CNS program, you may obtain certification by examination in some specialties, although there is no certification exam available for many specialty areas.  In order to practice, you may need to be certified by your state licensing board.


This material has been reviewed and approved by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists.