What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A clinical nurse specialist or CNS provides an integrated approach to managing and improving the healthcare system.

These experts focus on and implement reasonable healthcare practices to improve/influence three primary healthcare areas.

It includes the patient, nurses, and the healthcare system.

Clinical nurse specialists observe how one healthcare area affects another by focusing on all three components.

As a result, they can affect positive changes to allow the entire healthcare spectrum to run more effectively.

Influencing change among these integrated healthcare areas is necessary because one aspect significantly impacts another.

Therefore, it’s essential to look at these three areas holistically and rely upon one another to succeed within healthcare.

What Do Clinical Nurse Specialists Do?

Clinical nurse specialists perform numerous duties and responsibilities to improve patient and nurse outcomes.

For instance, these experts analyze, research, and implement advanced strategies and technologies to improve healthcare.

They also review a healthcare facility’s practice standards to ensure outcomes and intervene in complex health problems.

Clinical nurse specialists work with various healthcare workers to educate and promote staff development.

It ensures the facility, registered nurses, and staff receive adequate support to improve decision-making and work quality.

Clinical nurse specialists are experts in clinical practice.

These professionals ensure healthcare facilities follow satisfactory health standards and improve in vital areas.

Clinical nurse specialists periodically publish research data and make evidence-based recommendations.

It enables them to promote better healthcare procedures, practices, and policies.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Duties:

  • Utilize research to reduce hospital costs
  • Improve patient satisfaction
  • Minimize the length of hospital stays
  • Reduce medical patient health complications
  • Publish research data
  • Make evidence-based suggestions
  • Provide direct patient care
  • Promote better healthcare practices and policies
  • Remain updated on evidence-based literature

Clinical nurse specialists may concentrate on specific patient populations or care areas to provide specialized support.

For instance, some clinical nurse specialists focus on diabetes and diabetic patients.

It allows them to deliver specialized care and healthcare advancement, improving diabetes treatment and prevention.

Other clinical nurse specialists may concentrate on education, policy reform, or leadership roles.

As a result, CNS can have unique and distinctive roles and practices to support different healthcare areas.

The Patient

Clinical nurse specialists concentrate on patient care, the integration of healthcare practices among patients, and the nurse’s ability to effectively and adequately care for patients needing medical attention.

These healthcare professionals act as coaches and teachers to ensure healthcare professionals perform their best.

They also provide training and education to nurses and observe their outcomes throughout their careers.

It enables them to assist nurses and other professionals in struggling areas and improve overall performance.

Besides that, clinical nurse specialists focus on team dynamics and ethical behavior.

It ensures that everyone works effectively and cohesively while treating each other and the patients ethically.

The Nurse

Besides patient care, clinical nurse specialists observe the care, treatment, and rights of the nurses they oversee.

It ensures these specialists receive adequate rest/recovery and quality training/education and are respected and treated fairly.

Clinical nurse specialists also observe the relationship between nurses and other healthcare specialists.

As a result, they ensure each employee’s needs are being met.

They examine healthcare policies and rules prohibiting nurses from achieving their full potential to improve their situation.

Finally, clinical nurse specialists coach nurses and provide leadership to motivate and improve their performance.

The System

Clinical nurse specialists focus on the healthcare system and healthcare policies.

As a result, they can improve vital areas within healthcare related to patients and nurses.

They can eliminate unnecessary policies/rules, implement better policies, and make the healthcare system more effective.

How Clinical Nurse Specialists Impact Healthcare

CNS improves patient and nurse care by creating policies and reforms within the healthcare system.

It ensures a more cohesive system and improves healthcare as a whole.

They also implement disease prevention practices, educate the public and nurses on the latest healthcare approaches and offer ways to improve individual health.

The tools they incorporate improve the speed and effectiveness of patient care, reducing stress on nurses and patients.

Where Do Clinical Nurse Specialists Work?

Clinical nurse specialists work in various environments to accommodate patient/nurse needs.

It includes adult care, mental health, oncology, rehabilitation services, women’s health, and other healthcare domains.

Some CNS work for corporations or prisons to assist workers, healthcare professionals, and the convicts they serve.

It enables them to ensure healthcare workers and others in prison receive sufficient medical care, treatment, and support.

Other clinical nurse specialists work at clinics or provide practices to accommodate their unique needs.

Occupational Settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Community health clinics
  • Mental health facilities
  • Schools
  • Specialty clinics
  • Rehavbilitation centers
  • Oncology units
  • Prisons

CNS Career Specializations

Clinical nurse specialists provide care, management, and oversight to distinct patient populations and specializations.

For instance, some CNS work in adult care/geriatrics to ensure older people receive adequate medical care and support.

Others specialize in mental health to help employees and those with mental conditions improve their outcomes.

The following list explores some familiar specializations for clinical nurse specialists.

Nonetheless, it does not cover all of the disciplines available to these healthcare specialists.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Disciplines:

  • Adult care
  • Critical care
  • Emergency room services
  • Home Health
  • Geriatrics
  • Nursing homes
  • Pain management
  • Pediatrics
  • Physicatirc mental health
  • Private practices
  • Public/community health
  • Oncology
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Schools
  • Women’s Health

There are many other work environments for clinical nurse specialists.

The previous list provides a glimpse into the many occupational facets available within this profession.

Clinical Nurse Specialist vs. Nurse Educator

There are numerous differences between clinical nurse specialists and nurse educators.

CNS are experts in clinical practice.

They utilize clinical expertise to advance healthcare practices, procedures, and policies in various healthcare settings.

CNS evaluates healthcare facility approaches and processes to improve clinical care.

They also review standards of practice and will assess and intervene in complex health problems.

As a result, CNS ensures employers and staff follow adequate healthcare measures and make improvements in vital areas.

Besides that, CNS will consult healthcare workers to improve education and decision-making and promote staff development.

They may publish research data and make recommendations based on their studies to advance healthcare practices.

Comparatively, nurse educators use teaching, learning, and evaluation theories to design and develop educational curricula.

They also teach students and professionals to improve educational performance and advise, mentor, and evaluate staff.

Nurse educators provide oversight in clinical practice.

As a result, they play a leadership role and may operate in various clinical or academic settings.

Exceptional leadership and communication skills are necessary to become a nurse educator.

Both careers require leadership and communication skills.

Nevertheless, a nurse educator’s oversight and instructional obligations make these aptitudes necessary.

Clinical nurse specialists are relatively researched-based, focusing on recommendations, policy processes, and evidence-based data.

Comparatively, nurse educators are relatively education-based, offering leadership, implementation, and academic instruction.

Clinical nurse specialists and educators pursue different academic routes to prepare for their healthcare roles.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Becoming a clinical nurse specialist requires years of education, training, and hard work.

However, it’s a fantastic career for those who want to improve patient care, employee outcomes, and healthcare systems.

The following section provides an overview of the steps clinical nurses must complete to work in this profession.

1. Join a Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a clinical nurse specialist is to finish a nursing program.

To join a nursing school, students must take numerous prerequisite courses and maintain a good GPA.

The prerequisite courses provide an educational foundation to ensure students understand more complex nursing topics.

Reviewing previous GPA scores also enables programs to determine whether students will succeed in nursing school.

Entering nursing school can be challenging due to high competition, difficult coursework, and limited seating.

As a result, nursing schools often use prerequisite course grades to identify those with the best chance of passing the program.

It takes approximately 1 – 2 years to complete the necessary prerequisites depending on the student’s prior education.

After satisfying the school’s requirements, students may apply to nurse school.

Many aspiring nursing students apply to multiple programs to maximize their acceptance odds.

2. Earn a BSN Degree

Those who enter nursing school can pursue an ADN or BSN degree to acquire licensure and work as registered nurses.

The ADN degree takes around 18 – 24 months to complete and provides an excellent education for entry-level nursing jobs.

However, those wishing to become clinical nurse specialists must obtain a BSN to enter a postgraduate program.

The BSN degree takes roughly 36 – 48 months to complete and provides a more comprehensive nursing education.

As a result, it’s an essential degree for those who want to specialize in many different nursing disciplines.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN

After completing nursing school, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

The NCLEX exam enables the NCSBN to ensure graduates have the necessary training to operate competently in the field.

Passing the exam is also required to obtain state licensure and practice legally as a registered nurse.

5. Acquire an MSN Degree

The next step to becoming a clinical nurse specialist is to acquire an MSN degree concentrating on clinical nursing.

As a postgraduate student, you’ll learn more specific topics related to clinical practice, administration, and education.

For instance, many postgraduate students attend physiology/pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessment courses.

They also learn principles in nursing management, healthy policy, and ethics. 

Common MSN Curriculum:

  • Physiology/pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health assessment
  • Principles in nursing management
  • Healthcare policy and ethics

Beyond the standard MSN curriculum, CNSs take numerous courses explicitly designed for this specialization.

The course curriculum provides special education and training to enable CNS to operate effectively in their discipline.

Postgraduate students must also complete a minimum of 500 clinical hours.

However, clinical hours can readily increase depending on the specialization and program.

Clinical training ensures aspiring clinical nurse specialists understand their duties and responsibilities effectively.

It also ensures they know how to perform the procedures, approaches, and applications properly to perform their duties well.

Obtaining an MSN takes approximately two to three years, depending on the student’s prior education and course curriculum.

6. Get Certified

The final step to becoming a clinical nurse specialist is to get certified.

The American Nurses Credentialing Centers offers the Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialists (AGCNS) board certification.

Alternatively, CNS can take the American Association of Critical Care Nurses entry-level advanced practice board certification.

These certifications enable clinical nurse specialists to demonstrate their competencies, skills, dedication, and professionalism.

It also ensures they’ll provide exceptional expertise to healthcare institutions hiring them.

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