Clinical Nurse Specialist

A clinical nurse specialist, more commonly called a CNS, is a type of advanced practicing registered nurse (APRN) who possesses either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, as well as licensing and board certification. Unlike a nurse practitioner, who functions like a primary care provider and works exclusively with the patients in providing medical care, a clinical nurse specialist services many different roles in the nursing and medical community as a whole. A CNS will work with an office and nurses to create and/or improve the medical environment so that it functions optimally.

For example, CNSs will monitor the current functions of the medical office and the nurses, and will develop ways to optimize both, helping the nurses work better and the office as a whole to better meet the needs of patients, resulting in cost savings, shorter patient stays, and an overall better outcome. A CNS can work in a particular category, such as specializing in psychiatrics, geriatrics and pediatrics, in a specific environment, such as emergency departments, clinics, or in a particular disease or condition, such as oncology.


Because a CNS is an advanced nursing position, it pays more than being an LN or RN, and is in more demand than both of those positions due to its advanced requirements, which automatically results in a lower pool of qualified workers.

Clinical nursing specialists have many different activities to stay occupied, making it an ideal choice for someone who needs to feel continually challenged, but becomes bored easily when repeating the same tasks daily. A CNS gets to participate in clinical trials, and a few weeks later can shift into teaching nurses and personnel for a while, again changing tasks a few weeks later to focus on management. This variety of tasks and abilities makes a CNS unique in the nursing field.


A CNS is an advanced nurse, and as such must possess a graduate-level degree in most states. The majority of clinical nurse specialists hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree, while a growing number are electing to get a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree instead, often for two reasons: for the advanced knowledge and higher credentials, and to meet a potential future change in the minimum requirements to work as a CNS.

A registered nurse who holds a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree) can join either an MSN or DNP program, while an RN who holds an ADN (Associate of Science in Nursing degree) must either earn a BSN or enroll in an ADN-to-MSN program; an ADN holder cannot join a DNP program. A BSN-to-DNP program often takes longer to earn than an MSN-to-DNP program due to the extra prerequisites that must be earned. Once a DNP is earned, the CNS will possess a Ph.D in nursing and be eligible for board certification and licensing as an APRN and CNS.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of registered nurses, which includes advanced practicing nurses such as CNSs, is growing faster than normal and has a very good job outlook in the future as the medical field continues to grow.

CNSs are sought after by many different employers within the medical field, including hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Also, because of the unique things that CNSs offer, clinical nursing specialists can work as contractors, helping optimize an office for a few weeks or months while retaining an independent contractor status, offering a unique aspect of freedom to the career.

Unlike working as a lower-level nurse, such as an ordinary RN, there is less competition for CNSs, due to the graduate degree requirement. A nurse who finds a job as a CNS will likely have the job for life if they want, and can retire very comfortable after a few decades, often with a generous retirement bonus and pension. The career field as a whole is very stable, and is an excellent choice for anyone who needs a reliable, high-paying, life-long career.


According to, the median salary for a CNS is approximately $90,000 per year. The lower end of the salary scale for clinical nurse specialists is $75,000, while some CNSs earn six figures a year. Salary depends on many different factors, including the economy, location, experience, and the employer. Private companies often pay better than publicly-funded hospitals and clinics, for example. As with all jobs, CNSs who work for the same employer for a prolonged period of time often enjoy generous pay raises, end-of-year bonuses, excellent pensions, and other perks. The more experienced a CNS, the higher a salary they can command.


Clinical nursing specialists are special type of nurses who are in high demand by medical offices, hospitals, and other organizations due to the benefits they bring. An effective and skilled CNS will be able to improve the overall environment by improving the way nurses interact and deal with patients, and how patients are handled. By becoming a CNS, you’ll earn a high salary while simultaneously helping both the medical profession itself and the patients who rely on it.