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Become A Clinical Nurse Specialist

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Working As A Clinical Nurse Specialist

  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Assisting and Caring for Others
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Deal with People

  • Unpleasant/Angry People

  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Make Decisions

  • $70,747

    Average Salary

What Does A Clinical Nurse Specialist Do

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.


Registered nurses typically do the following:

  • Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
  • Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute to existing plans
  • Observe patients and record the observations
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment

Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists. Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides.

Registered nurses’ duties and titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. For example, an oncology nurse may work with cancer patients or a geriatric nurse may work with elderly patients. Some registered nurses combine one or more areas of practice. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse works with children and teens who have cancer.

Many possibilities for working with specific patient groups exist. The following list includes just a few examples:

Addiction nurses care for patients who need help to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, and other substances.

Cardiovascular nurses care for patients with heart disease and people who have had heart surgery.

Critical care nurses work in intensive-care units in hospitals, providing care to patients with serious, complex, and acute illnesses and injuries that need very close monitoring and treatment.

Genetics nurses provide screening, counseling, and treatment for patients with genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis.

Neonatology nurses take care of newborn babies.

Nephrology nurses care for patients who have kidney-related health issues stemming from diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, or other causes.

Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with temporary or permanent disabilities.

Registered nurses may work to promote public health, by educating people on warning signs and symptoms of disease or managing chronic health conditions. They may also run health screenings, immunization clinics, blood drives, or other community outreach programs. Other nurses staff the health clinics in schools.

Some nurses do not work directly with patients, but they must still have an active registered nurse license. For example, they may work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, or as medical writers and editors.

Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). They provide direct patient care in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health or pediatrics. CNSs also provide indirect care, by working with other nurses and various other staff to improve the quality of care that patients receive. They often serve in leadership roles and may educate and advise other nursing staff. CNSs also may conduct research and may advocate for certain policies.

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How To Become A Clinical Nurse Specialist

Registered nurses usually take one of three education paths: a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses also must be licensed.


In all nursing education programs, students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences, as well as in liberal arts. BSN programs typically take 4 years to complete; ADN and diploma programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete. All programs include supervised clinical experience.

Bachelor’s degree programs usually include additional education in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership, and critical thinking. These programs also offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. A bachelor’s degree or higher is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting, and teaching.

Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of education programs (bachelor’s, associate’s, or diploma) qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. However, employers—particularly those in hospitals—may require a bachelor’s degree.

Many registered nurses with an ADN or diploma choose to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree through an RN-to-BSN program. There are also master’s degree programs in nursing, combined bachelor’s and master’s programs, and accelerated programs for those who wish to enter the nursing profession and already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement.

Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) must earn a master’s degree in nursing and typically already have 1 or more years of work experience as an RN or in a related field. CNSs who conduct research typically need a doctoral degree.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, registered nurses must have a nursing license. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Other requirements for licensing vary by state. Each state’s board of nursing can give details. For more information on the NCLEX-RN and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Nurses may become certified through professional associations in specific areas, such as ambulatory care, gerontology, and pediatrics, among others. Although certification is usually voluntary, it demonstrates adherence to a higher standard, and some employers require it.

CNSs must satisfy additional state licensing requirements, such as earning specialty certifications. Contact state boards of nursing for specific requirements.

Important Qualities

Critical-thinking skills. Registered nurses must be able to assess changes in the health status of patients, including determining when to take corrective action and when to make referrals.

Communication skills. Registered nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients in order to understand their concerns and assess their health conditions. Nurses need to explain instructions, such as how to take medication, clearly. They must be able to work in teams with other health professionals and communicate the patients’ needs.

Compassion. Registered nurses should be caring and empathetic when caring for patients.

Detail oriented. Registered nurses must be responsible and detail oriented because they must make sure that patients get the correct treatments and medicines at the right time.

Emotional stability. Registered nurses need emotional resilience and the ability to manage their emotions to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.

Organizational skills. Nurses often work with multiple patients with various health needs. Organizational skills are critical to ensure that each patient is given appropriate care.

Physical stamina. Nurses should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as moving patients. They may be on their feet for most of their shift.


Most registered nurses begin as staff nurses in hospitals or community health settings. With experience, good performance, and continuous education, they can move to other settings or be promoted to positions with more responsibility.

In management, nurses can advance from assistant clinical nurse manager, charge nurse, or head nurse to more senior-level administrative roles, such as assistant director or director of nursing, vice president of nursing, or chief nursing officer. Increasingly, management-level nursing positions are requiring a graduate degree in nursing or health services administration. Administrative positions require leadership, communication skills, negotiation skills, and good judgment.

Some nurses move into the business side of healthcare. Their nursing expertise and experience on a healthcare team equip them to manage ambulatory, acute, home-based, and chronic care businesses. Employers—including hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and managed care organizations, among others—need registered nurses for jobs in health planning and development, marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance.

Some RNs choose to become nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners, which, along with clinical nurse specialists, are types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs may provide primary and specialty care, and in many states they may prescribe medications.

Other nurses work as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities.

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Clinical Nurse Specialist Jobs


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Clinical Nurse Specialist Career Paths

Clinical Nurse Specialist
Nurse Practitioner Staff Nurse
Assistant Director Of Nursing
7 Yearsyrs
Registered Nurse Supervisor Nurse Manager Nursing Director
Branch Director
8 Yearsyrs
Nurse Manager Registered Nurse Case Manager Nursing Director
Chief Nursing Officer
13 Yearsyrs
Clinical Specialist Specialty Sales Representative
Clinical Business Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Nursing Director Case Manager Clinical Manager
Clinical Operations Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Faculty Psychologist Clinical Supervisor
Clinical Program Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Nurse Educator Registered Nurse Case Manager Practice Manager
Consulting Practice Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Nurse Manager Nursing Director Case Manager
Director Of Case Management
11 Yearsyrs
Assistant Director Therapist Respiratory Therapist
Director Of Clinical Education
11 Yearsyrs
Nurse Practitioner Assistant Professor Clinical Pharmacist
Director Of Pharmacist
10 Yearsyrs
Registered Nurse Supervisor Nursing Director Director Of Quality
Director Of Quality Management
13 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Faculty Education Director Nursing Director
Director Of Staff Development
8 Yearsyrs
Family Nurse Practitioner Staff Nurse Registered Nurse Supervisor
Health Director
9 Yearsyrs
Practical Nurse Licensed Practical Nurse Occupational Health Nurse
Health Services Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Clinical Specialist Territory Sales Manager Specialty Representative
Hospital Account Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Family Nurse Practitioner Nurse Practitioner Nurse Manager
Inpatient Services Director
12 Yearsyrs
Nursing Director Consultant Nurse Staff Nurse
Managed Care Director
9 Yearsyrs
Staff Nurse Registered Nurse Supervisor
Nurse Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Staff Nurse Case Manager
Patient Care Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Program Manager Information Technology Director Chief Technologist
Radiology Manager
8 Yearsyrs
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Help others decide if this is a good career for them

Average Length of Employment
Staff Nurse 5.9 years
Registered Nurse 5.2 years
Head Nurse 4.2 years
Nurse Clinician 4.1 years
Nurse Manager 3.9 years
Agency Nurse 3.5 years
Oncology Nurse 3.4 years
Nurse Educator 3.3 years
Nurse 3.1 years
Clinical Educator 2.5 years
Traveling Nurse 2.1 years
Top Employers Before
Staff Nurse 30.4%
Nurse 6.4%
Head Nurse 2.8%
Instructor 2.4%
Educator 2.3%
Top Employers After
Staff Nurse 13.7%
Nurse 6.1%
Faculty 2.8%
Instructor 2.7%
Consultant 2.5%
Director 2.4%

Do you work as a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Clinical Nurse Specialist Demographics










Hispanic or Latino


Black or African American





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Foreign Languages Spoken














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Clinical Nurse Specialist Education


University of Phoenix


Walden University


University of Pennsylvania


University of Maryland - Baltimore


University of California - San Francisco


University of South Alabama


Emory University


Vanderbilt University


Georgia State University


University of Massachusetts - Boston


Case Western Reserve University


University of Cincinnati


Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis


Texas Woman's University


University of Texas at Arlington


Kent State University


University of Washington


Chamberlain College of Nursing


University of California - Los Angeles


University of Alabama at Birmingham

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Family Practice Nursing


Nursing Science


Health Care Administration






Clinical Psychology


Health/Medical Preparatory Programs


Public Health


Mental Health Counseling


Educational Leadership






School Counseling


Physiology And Anatomy






Health And Wellness


Health Education

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Real Clinical Nurse Specialist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Clinical Nurse Specialist University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA Aug 21, 2014 $135,177
Clinical Nurse Specialist University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA Sep 04, 2011 $125,000
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Oncology Stanford Hospital & Clinics Palo Alto, CA Sep 16, 2013 $121,867 -
Clinical Nurse Specialist-Consultation Liaison Mills-Peninsula Health Services Burlingame, CA Nov 01, 2010 $116,872
Clinical Nurse Specialist Stanford Hospital & Clinics Palo Alto, CA Aug 30, 2015 $109,200 -
Clinical Nurse Specialist-Diabetes Stanford Hospital & Clinics Palo Alto, CA May 11, 2015 $109,200 -
Bariatric Nurse Specialist Sutter East Bay Hospitals Oakland, CA Jul 05, 2010 $103,838
Clinical Nurse Specialist ICU The Charlotte Hungerford Hospital Torrington, CT Jul 20, 2015 $78,847
Nurse Specialist (Family) Medical Dynamic Systems, Inc. Roslyn, NY Nov 30, 2009 $77,344
Clinical Nurse Specialist (Psychiatric and Mental Medical Dynamic Systems, Inc. Woodmere, NY Dec 14, 2009 $77,344
Clinical Nurse Specialist (Critical Care Unit) Medical Dynamic Systems, Inc. Roslyn, NY Nov 30, 2009 $77,344
Clinical Nurse Specialist (Psychiatric and Mental Medical Dynamic Systems, Inc. Roslyn Heights, NY Dec 14, 2009 $77,344
Nurse Specialist (Women's Health) Medical Dynamic Systems, Inc. Roslyn, NY Nov 30, 2009 $77,344
Clinical Specialist Nurse-ER Access Therapies, Inc. San Diego, CA Nov 09, 2009 $70,958
Clinical Nurse Specialist and Educator William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance, Inc. Memphis, TN Jan 23, 2015 $70,000 -
Clinical Nurse Specialist and Educator William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance, Inc. Collierville, TN Jan 15, 2015 $70,000 -
Clinical Nurse Specialist Praveen Bolarum Md, LLC Frederick, MD Sep 26, 2013 $70,000
Aesthetic Nurse Specialist Asia Pacific Plastic Surgery Inc. Urban Honolulu, HI Nov 15, 2014 $69,915
Aesthetic Nurse Specialist Asia Pacific Plastic Surgery Inc. Urban Honolulu, HI Nov 15, 2014 $69,680
Clinical Nurse Specialist Crofton Convalescent Center Crofton, MD Oct 01, 2011 $64,697
Clinical Nurse Specialist Universal Medical Records Information Network Corp New York, NY Sep 10, 2014 $64,572
Clinical Nurse Specialist Moore Nurses LLC Houston, TX Oct 01, 2010 $62,610 -
Clinical Nurse Specialist Moore Nurses LLC Houston, TX Nov 15, 2010 $62,610
Clinical Nurse Specialist Spanish Meadows of Katy Ltd Katy, TX Sep 01, 2014 $62,610
Clincal Nurse Specialist Moore Nurses LLC Houston, TX Oct 01, 2010 $62,610 -

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Top Skills for A Clinical Nurse Specialist

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  1. Patient Care
  2. Clinical Practice
  3. Emergency
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Collected, analyzed and disseminated data to develop quality improvement initiatives to enhance patient care and reach financial target outcomes.
  • Updated process measure definitions and developed data dictionary for team utilizing current AHA/ASA clinical practice guidelines.
  • Served as psychiatric consultant/liaison to emergency care providers, regarding client's psychiatric history and presenting condition.
  • Developed/Implemented CNS role at Holy Family Hospital Developed Surgical Services Competency Program Developed/Revised Surgical Services Policy/Procedure Manual
  • Demonstrated proficiency in application of nursing process, collaborated with other health care professionals to implement activities to optimize patient care.

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Average Salary:

Top 10 Best States for Clinical Nurse Specialists

  1. Alaska
  2. Hawaii
  3. Oregon
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Connecticut
  6. New Mexico
  7. Massachusetts
  8. New Hampshire
  9. Nevada
  10. New Jersey
  • (245 jobs)
  • (271 jobs)
  • (1,038 jobs)
  • (333 jobs)
  • (1,102 jobs)
  • (727 jobs)
  • (2,330 jobs)
  • (801 jobs)
  • (477 jobs)
  • (2,470 jobs)

Top Clinical Nurse Specialist Employers

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Jobs From Top Clinical Nurse Specialist Employers

Clinical Nurse Specialist Videos

Career Advice on becoming a Research Nurse by Sara S (Full Version)

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