JAANUU » What Is a Clinical Nurse and How Do You Become One?

What Is a Clinical Nurse and How Do You Become One?

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Nursing is one of the most diverse careers around. There are many different areas to specialize in and various healthcare environments from which to choose. 

Because this career path is so varied, separating all the acronyms and certifications can be confusing. In this article, we break it all down for you so you can figure out exactly which path is right for you

If your head is spinning just thinking about whether to become a CNA, LPN, RN or CN, sit back and relax. We’ll take you through all the different ways that nurses can support a healthcare system and the ways that these careers can, in turn, support you.  

What is a clinical nurse specialist?


Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are an advanced type of registered nurse with a high level of clinical expertise. In order to practice, they must have a graduate degree in nursing. Because this is an advanced role, clinical nurse specialists are trained in pharmacology, health assessment and physiology.  

This role’s main goal is to provide superior care within a certain specialty. Some of these specializations include,

What does a clinical nurse specialist do?

A clinical nurse performs research and acts as both an educator and consultant. They’re able to order tests, perform certain treatments, diagnose and even prescribe meds (depending on the situation). As experts in their trade, they are leaders on their teams and help everyone comply with best practices. In other words, they’re kind of “a boss.”

How to become a clinical nurse specialist

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The short answer to this question? Study hard. You’ll have to get a Master’s Degree in Nursing Science or even a doctoral degree after passing through more preliminary routes of study, like getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or becoming a licensed registered nurse. When you study to become a clinical nurse specialist, you’ll learn about statistics, pharmacology, health assessment, disease prevention and health care administration. 

Then you’ll need to get certified as a CNS. Yes, this means taking yet another exam, but we know you’re going to crush it. 

How long does it take to become a clinical nurse specialist?

It can take around five years to become a clinical nurse specialist if you’re starting from scratch. If you already have your RN licensure, it should only take another two years to complete your Master’s degree and become certified as a CNS.

What qualifications do I need to be a clinical nurse specialist?

You already know what nursing education and certifications you’ll need to perform this work, but what about the less tangible competencies like personal traits that would make you perfect for this role? 

As in many nursing careers, clinical nurse specialists need to be organized, think quickly on their feet and come to the role sufficiently prepared. You’ll also need to be a great communicator and problem solver. We bet you already are, just like we’d venture to guess that you’re also a natural leader—another trait that will no doubt serve you well in this career. 

What is the difference between a clinical nurse specialist and a nurse practitioner?

So many nursing roles are similar, especially as far as education and training go. There are countless career paths that you can take as an RN, so what sets being a clinical nurse specialist apart? 

The CNS role tends to be more research-driven and on the administrative end of the spectrum, while nurse practitioners get more hands-on time with their patients. 

In short, that means that daily tasks also look different. An NP may be doing assessment and administering medication in their day-to-day work, while CNSs may have their heads in the realm of research or do advocacy and collaboration in a team. 

That said, both NPs and CNSs are after the same goal: giving their patients the best possible experience and medical care. 

What is the career outlook for a CNS?


Before you go out and start your clinical nurse education, you probably want to know what kind of career prospects you’ll have. That’s responsible thinking and a great place from which to start when considering any new career path, especially one with such an intense educational and emotional investment behind it.    

Great news: The need for advanced practice nurses is predicted to increase by up to 45% before 2029. And, if this unprecedented growth isn’t enough to get you started on fulfilling your clinical nurse requirements, let’s talk money. The average clinical nurse specialist’s salary in the U.S. is more than $100,000 annually, so this work is not only satisfying on an intellectual level but a fiscal one, too.

Are you ready to take on a career as a clinical nurse specialist? We’re here for you—not just with great scrubs but with moral support and information on nursing as well. We would say we’re on the sidelines of your career cheering you on, but we can actually do one better: we’re on your team! 

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