What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

One of the great things about being a nurse is the vast array of opportunities that it opens up for you. One such path can lead to an advanced nursing degree in a field of your choosing. Currently, there are four advanced nursing fields: nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse anesthetist (CNA), certified nurse midwife (CNW) or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS).

The Role of a Clinical Nurse Specialist

As a clinical nurse specialist, you are a clinical expert in one or more fields. The population you work with and the setting and focus of practice determines that. You might provide direct clinical care, but are more apt to work in nursing jobs that improve quality of care while making the provision of services more efficient and effective. You might find yourself working in management, teaching, research or consulting. You are most likely to work in a hospital, although CNSs can also be found in hospice facilities, teaching institutions, public health agencies or even as a private practitioner.

Experts in diagnosing and treating disease, CNSs specialize typically into one or more medical subcategories such as

  • infectious disease
  • maternal and child health
  • psychiatric health
  • public health
  • women's health
  • school nursing
  • forensics
  • critical care
  • oncology
  • gerontology

Education for a Clinical Nurse Specialist

The first educational step in becoming a CNS is to become a registered nurse (RN). Although you can do this with a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), keep in mind that most advanced nursing programs require a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. After an additional two years of nursing school, you can obtain a Master of Science in Nursing.

Curricula may vary between programs, but most are characterized by a heavy focus on advanced levels of what nurses learn at an undergraduate level. They give special attention to coursework in research, health assessment and measurement, program development and management and advanced nursing. Additionally, some programs may include nursing clinicals.

The Future for Clinical Nurse Specialists

CNSs have been around long enough to measure their effectiveness, and their value is unquestionable. Among other things, CNSs foster a productive, science-based environment and improve staff retention rates. Given the current projected growth rate of the nursing field, you can expect that your future as a CNS will be a secure one.

CNSs are especially effective in making healthcare work better for both patients and providers both. Given the demographic flood engulfing the healthcare system and unpredictable challenges resulting from massive reform of the healthcare system, your timing couldn't be better.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Tags: allied-health, associate degree in nursing, LPN, nursing, patient care, Registered Nursing, Vocational & Practical Nursing

Charles R. Hooper, MSW

About Charles R. Hooper, MSW

With over 20 years experience as a medical social worker and a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been honored to dedicate most of my professional life to service in health care. I have worked in multiple medical/nursing settings, including cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, trauma care and others. I also founded the medical social work program at a regional trauma center and a very busy emergency department. View all posts by Charles R. Hooper, MSW →