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Clinical Nurse Specialist: Education and Career Information

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is considered an expert in certain areas of healthcare. If you are interested in nursing, but want to work in management, administration or deal directly with patients and their families, this would be a good career path to take. This role is more involved with the day-to-day aspects of what goes on behind the scenes in the nursing field, rather than focusing on a bedside manner. In every profession, there must be someone to handle the management and administrative aspect. This role handles those tasks.

What does a clinical nurse specialist do?

A clinical nurse specialist is highly educated, with a master’s degree at the minimum. They are the eyes and ears of advanced practiced nurses, working to improve patient outcomes through the application of theory and research to improve efficiency and promote success of nursing systems. They are registered nurses who also hold national certification that demonstrates advanced knowledge and clinical skills specific to certain areas of nursing. They work directly with patients, but can also implement treatment plans to assist patient care.

This role is integral to the nursing profession, as they serve as mentors to other nurses and apply observations of direct patient care to research. They have consistent interaction with professionals on all levels of the healthcare system, using their experience and advanced training to educate their peers and bring change through improved practices for positive patient outcomes. CNSs are also advocates and work in committees and help shape policy to improve the delivery of healthcare. They are very involved in the structure of healthcare, and apply research-based theory to their recommendations. They handle a high degree of paperwork, and work in outpatient areas. You will find them in hospitals, extended-care and ambulatory centers, colleges and universities, research facilities, laboratories and community-based providers.

How much does a clinical nurse specialist earn?

Clinical nurse specialists make about $80,000 per year on average, but can make over $120,000 per year depending on education, experience and location. The more experience a CNS has, the higher their pay will rise.

What types of skills are needed to become a clinical nurse specialist?

There are a number of skills needed to be successful as a clinical nurse specialist:

Management of Personnel Resources: Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.

Operations Analysis: Analyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.

Operation Monitoring: Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure machines are working properly.

Active listening: Being able to give full attention to what others are saying, and taking the time to fully comprehend points being made. Being able to ask questions to extract the right information.

Social perceptiveness: Being aware of the reaction of others and understanding why the patient is reacting certain ways.

Service orientation: Looking for ways to assist others with a calm and helpful demeanor.

Critical thinking: Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Speaking: Speaking clearly and effectively to convey information.

Coordination: Being able to coordinate processes and procedures; adjusting actions in relation to others.

Monitoring: Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

Judgment and Decision Making: Using judgment to assess resources and patient care, and making informed decisions to help improve quality of life and personal healthcare.

Time Management: Being able to juggle a number of things at one time; coordinating healthcare and keeping patients on a regular schedule.

Writing: Being able to communicate and convey information in written form; keeping the patient chart up-to-date.

Internship Requirements

Internship requirements vary based on school, state and program. Students enrolled in nursing programs need to meet clinical requirements in order to qualify to take the certification exam, the nurse must complete at least 1,000 hours, along with additional experience to become certified as a clinical nurse specialist.

Educational Requirements

Students wishing to become a clinical nurse specialist must be prepared to pursue an advanced degree beyond the standard nursing program. To begin, they should enroll into a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) program, which is a four-year commitment. The student will complete coursework in general chemistry, biology, microbiology, human anatomy, physiology, nutrition, statistics, and behavioral science.

After completing the initial nursing program, the student must sit and pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to qualify for licensing. Once the license has been obtained, the nurse must begin working in a hospital setting to gain experience to become qualified to enter a master’s degree program. Most nursing graduate degree programs require one to two years of direct patient experience in a clinical setting. Once they enter the master’s degree program, they will spend another two to three years based on the specialty they are studying. In this program, students will develop nursing skills at a higher level through the study of assessment, nursing practices, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and other coursework. They will also have to complete an internship through supervised clinical experience in their specialty. Most clinical nurse specialists are able to write prescriptions, which is why they are required to have specific training in pharmacology.

Once the master’s level program is finished, they can apply for special certification in chosen fields based on their interests. There are a minimum number of hours required for each specialty. Although not required, this is highly recommended. The nurses must also become certified or licensed to the state for an advanced practice nursing license. They must have an RN license, a graduate degree, and become certified by a recognized CNS certification authority.

CNSs who wish to specialize in research usually go on to obtain a doctoral degree to further their education. This is a rewarding career for nurses who want to work in management or policy-making. The more education the nurse has, coupled with their experience, will make this a very lucrative career choice.

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association
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In 2017, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
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