Is becoming a clinical nurse specialist right for you?

This leadership role still sees patients, but also works to improve outcomes for nurses and health care organizations

Are you more of a “big picture” kind of nurse, always thinking about ways to do things better or training that would benefit your team? You might want to consider becoming a clinical nurse specialist.

Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses who have earned their Master’s or doctorate in nursing. Like other APRNs, they are trained in physiology, pharmacology and physical assessment in addition to their particular areas of specialty, according to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists.

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Although a CNS will still see patients, their focus, according to Nurse.org, is more on improving outcomes for patients, nurses and health care organizations.

To improve outcomes, the website states, many CNSes will ask themselves three questions:

  • How can I help the nurses at the bedside?
  • How can I help these patients on the unit?
  • How can I look back from a big perspective and see how can we improve a process throughout the whole system of the hospital?

Where you work can determine what your job duties would be, but a 2020 NACNS survey found most clinical nurse specialists spent 26.6% of their day providing direct patient care, 22.1% consulting with nurses and other staff, 26.5% teaching nurses and staff, and 19.7% leading evidence-based practice projects.

“My day to day can transition from being in my office planning for a project. So I’m doing a lot of reading, researching, writing, things like that,” CNS Andrea Paddock told Nurse.org. “Other days, I’m out on the unit helping the nurses, running to codes, running simulations, teaching classes, running meetings, etc. No one day is ever the same.”

If this sounds like a good fit, you’ll likely need to get some further education. If you don’t already have a Master’s of Science in Nursing, you’ll have to earn that. Focus on the clinical nurse specialist track, Nurse.org suggests. If you have your Master’s, you might want to consider getting your doctorate. NACNS states 20% of clinical nurse specialists have this advanced degree.

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You probably will need a few CNS certifications, depending on which field you work in, Nurse.org points out. They are administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center and include but are not limited to:

  • Adult health CNS
  • Adult-gerontology CNS
  • Pediatric CNS
  • Neonatal CNS
  • Public health CNS

Right now, you’re probably thinking this is going to cost you a lot of money. But the mean salary for a CNS is $112,221, according to ZipRecruiter. Salaries vary by specialization and employer, of course, with a current range of $51,000–$166,000. You can read Nurse.org’s full report here.

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