How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Do you want to become a clinical nurse specialist? If so, you must learn about clinical nursing and ways to pursue this profession.

The United States is experiencing ongoing shortages in nursing and other healthcare professions, impacting various clinical and non-clinical roles. Hence, it will be more convenient for you to pursue this career.

Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are advanced practice registered nurses with specialized knowledge and skills to improve patient outcomes in a specific area. Clinical nurses specialize in a specific illness or health condition to achieve expertise.

If you prefer to become a CNS, the journey is incredibly inspiring and rewarding for aspiring nurses.

We will try to include every aspect of this comprehensive guide, including the requirements, responsibilities, training, average salaries of Clinical Nurse Specialists, and much more.

What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Nurse Specialists are graduate-level Registered Nurses (RN) certified in an alcove specialty or healthcare concentration, demonstrating advanced knowledge and skills in the field of expertise.

A CNS’s journey leads to a job in a specialized hospital or other medical facility unit. A CNS and a Nurse Practitioner (NP) are not the same.

Even though both are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), they play different roles in the medical world.

8 Steps to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

The steps for becoming a clinical nurse specialist include primary education, clinical certification practice, and a graduate program, like an online MSN program. Below are the step-by-step guidelines on how to become a clinical nurse specialist.

  • You must obtain a degree in registered nursing to become certified in any US state to apply for a clinical nurse specialist program.
  • Apply to master’s, postgraduate or doctoral Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education Accredited programs.
  • According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists guidelines, you must complete 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours in the clinical nurse specialist role.
  • To obtain CNS certification, you must pass a certification exam relevant to your specialty, which may be administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or another recognized certification body.
  • After passing the certification exam, apply for CNS recognition or licensure in your state.

1. The Requirements

The educational requirement for a CNS is at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, with many CNSs also holding a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. APRNs or Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and all other Clinical Nurse Specialists must fulfill the following:

  • Master’s degree from an accredited program
  • Registered Nursing (RN) license from their state
  • National certification in CNS specialty
  • State APRN licensing

2. Duties & Responsibilities

A Clinical Nurse Specialist’s responsibilities may include the following:

  • Ordering medical tests and diagnosing illnesses of patients
  • Providing clinical expertise
  • Treating diseases of their specialty
  • Conducting research
  • Following policies, procedures, and standards of care
  • Collaborating with the healthcare team to create, review, and revise treatment plans
  • Managing and educating nurses and other staff

3. The WorkPlace

Clinical nurse specialists usually work in direct patient treatment units, but you may be in administrative, research, consulting, or supervisory posts.

Clinical Nurses can be required to work in various environments like Hospitals, Clinics, Student Health Clinics, Community Health Centers, Home Health Clinics, and Mental Health Facilities.

Clinical Nurses can work in various healthcare specialties, including Pediatrics, Adult Health, Neonatal, women’s Health, Geriatrics, Psychiatry, Public Health, and Rehabilitation.

You can also sharpen your skills by researching various diseases or subspecialties, such as Diabetes, Oncology, Infectious disease, Orthopedics, and Neurology.

4. The Working Hours

Like all other professions, Clinical Nurse Specialists work regular hours and may be required to operate the occasional weekend, evening, or holiday shift upon request. A CNS working in hospitals may need to work alternate shifts.

5. Education And Training

As we have mentioned above, to be a Clinical Nurse Specialist, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and an RN license are necessary.

In some cases, Clinical Nurses can enroll in a doctoral nursing program (DNP) if they wish to focus on research or teaching.

If you have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in earning an MSN Degree, some institutes offer a MEPN or Master’s Entry Program in Nursing.

6. The Programs

The core curriculum of the Clinical Nursing program falls under the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which enhances theories and skills learned in your graduation.

The applicants have to fulfill some prerequisite requirements to enroll in the MSN program, such as academic transcripts, GRE scores, personal essays, letters of recommendation, etc.

Institutes offer a Clinical Nursing track in adult health, adult gerontology, acute care, pediatrics, psychiatric/mental health, women’s health, community health, etc. Generally, advanced-practice courses include:

  • Health promotion and maintenance.
  • Advanced pathophysiology.
  • Advanced health assessment.
  • Pharmacology for advanced practice nurses.

The core curriculum of a Clinical Nursing track features theory and ethics, Application of research to practice, Context of health care for advanced-practice nursing, and Statistics in nursing research.

7. Fees

The tuition costs for MSN programs are usually per credit hour, estimated at approximately $500 to $1,000 per credit. It would be best if you considered the following before enrolling in an MSN program:

  • Tuition fees do not include books, prices, program fees, or other mandatory fees
  • Most schools offer financial aid or scholarships
  • American Nurses Association Member: $295
  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Member: $340
  • Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association: $340
  • National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: $340
  • Non-Member: $395

8. Renewal:

You must renew your certificates every five years, at least three months before expiration. Twenty-five of the 75 contact hours required for renewal must be in pharmacotherapeutics. Depending on your selected specialty, additional prerequisites may be necessary.

Most certifications require you to pass an exam, and many can remain valid for five years. Check the requirements specified by your state board of Registered Nursing to learn more about CNS certification.

Salary and Benefits

Clinical nurse specialists earn around $100,000 annually. However, the average salary ranges around $80,975. Individuals’ experience determines the range of low to high wages.

Aside from the expertise, geographic location significantly impacts the salary offered.

Clinical nurse specialists enjoy several benefits, including comprehensive medical coverage, sick days, and paid vacations. Depending on the environment, they may also get flexible work schedules.


That cannot be all about how to become a clinical nurse specialist. It’s a noble profession with high pay and additional perks and benefits. The demand for APRNs, including CNSs, is increasing as the healthcare industry grows.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, or US BLS, predicts that the job outlook for registered nurses will grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, which is much faster than the average job sector growth.

I hope that this article enables you to know more about how to become a clinical nurse specialist.

See Also

How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Types of Nurses

Surgeon Salary

Grants for Nursing School

How to Become a Dermatology Nurse

Home Loans for Nurses

Side Hustles for Physicians

Current Version
September 16, 2023
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.
March 28, 2024
Updated By
Tim Bevelacqua, MN, RN

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