A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who holds a master’s or doctoral degree in a specialized area of clinical nursing practice, such as mental health, women’s health, pediatrics, diabetes, or geriatrics. They provide direct care to patients, diagnose and treat diseases, injuries, and disabilities within their area of clinical expertise, provide expert consultation to nursing staffs, teach undergraduate and graduate level nursing students, and develop strategies within the health care delivery system to empower nurses, control costs, and improve overall patient care. Clinical nurse specialists may work independently or in collaboration with health, mental health, and/or social services professionals. In most U.S. states they can prescribe medications.
Clinical nurse specialists must hold a master’s degree or doctoral degree. Applicants to a master’s degree program for clinical nurse specialists must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and select a population, setting, type of care, or disease or other type of health problem as their area of clinical focus. Applicants to a doctoral program in nursing must hold a master’s degree in nursing or a nursing focus.
Licensing and certification requirements for clinical nurse specialists vary by state, but typically include successfully completing a national nurses licensing exam and a separate certification exam offered by a recognized national certifying organization.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job demand is high for APRNs and clinical registered nurses and will continue to grow especially in health care facilities in inner cities and rural areas.