Clinical Nurse Specialist

A clinical nurse specialist is a registered nurse who has attained either a master's or a PhD in nursing. This advanced practice nurse has specialized and demonstrates expertise in a chosen field of medicine for the health and well-being of patients and to improve delivery of care methods by health care workers. Clinical nurse specialists are in high demand due to changes in healthcare reform. Health insurance companies prefer patients to receive services from this discipline since they deliver high-quality health care at an affordable rate. Studies have shown when a clinical nurse specialist is part of a health care team, patient satisfaction rates are higher and there is a reduction in medical complications in hospitalized patients.

Clinical nurse specialists work in leadership positions as part of a health care team to educate health care members regarding complicated patient cases in their chosen field. They provide patient care and are frequently used as a resource for educating family and community members. Their expertise in health care has resulted in improved patient outcomes and safety.  A clinical nurse specialists' focus of care is defined by several factors:

  • Patient Population – They diagnose and treat patients in specific populations such as pediatrics, adolescents, adults, or geriatrics. Care is focused solely on one population with an emphasis on diseases and health diseases that pertain to a particular group.
  • Disease – Some clinical nurse specialist focus of case is specific to a certain type of disease such as diabetes, renal failure or heart disease. Other types of diseases they treat are respiratory, and cancers.
  • Problems – They work in specialized clinics such as wound clinics to diagnose and treat many types of wounds patients experience resulting from certain types of diseases such as diabetes or peripheral vascular diseases. Clinical nurse specialists treat patients experiencing chronic pain and they diagnose and treat patients in sleep clinics who have sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
  • Health Care Setting – Clinical nurse specialist may specialize in critical care and work in intensive care units or they may specialize in orthopedics and work in rehabilitation centers or units.
  • Type of Care –Some clinical nurse specialist specialize in the care of psychiatric patients and work in psychiatric centers or units or they may specialize in patients who have addiction problems and work in rehabilitation centers.

Education Requirements

A registered nurse with an Associate in Science or Bachelor in Science degree can choose one of several educational tracks to attain a Master's of Science or PhD in nursing. There are full-time clinical nurse specialist programs that take about two years to complete and part-time programs requiring four years to complete. Several accelerated programs exist for nurses who hold an Associates of Science degree in nursing to attain a Master’s of Science degree or PhD in less time. There are also certificate clinical nurse specialist programs for nurses who already hold a Master’s degree or PhD in nursing. After graduating, an application needs to be submitted to a state board of nursing for a date to test for licensure. Each state has their own scope of practice for clinical nurse specialist to abide by. It is highly recommended to contact your state board of nursing and request a copy of a clinical nurse specialist scope of practice to see what job limitations may exist for your particular state. It is the intent of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse credentialing agencies to one day eliminate barriers to scope of practice allowing clinical nurse specialist the ability to practice in their specialty to the fullest extent.

Job Description & Duties

Clinical nurse specialists diagnose and treat patients with certain types of diseases, illnesses or disabilities within their field of medicine. They also teach health care members systematic techniques to improve delivery of health care for their patients. Clinical nurse specialists are leaders in their community and work by gathering data and implementing ways to improve health and better living conditions. They teach patients how to make healthy lifestyle choices, how to prevent certain types of diseases and illnesses and how to help loved ones. Health care members seek out clinical nurse specialist for answers to particular patient problems and health care needs. Utilizing clinical nurse specialists in the health care field have reduced health care cost for several reasons:

  • Patients have shorter hospital stays
  • Patients need fewer hospital admissions
  • Patients have fewer emergency room visits
  • Patients receive better pain management resulting in fewer office visits

Job Outlook and Salary

Clinical nurse specialists are in high demand due to continued population growth and aging of baby boomers. Presently there are more job openings available than clinical nurse specialist to fill them. With advances in health care, people are living longer and require the expertise of clinical nurse specialist in geriatrics.

Salary range for a clinical nurse specialist is approximately $65,000 to over $110,000 per year depending on geographical areas of practice. Jobs in larger cities will pay a much higher salary than jobs in small rural areas.


Written by

Carrie Cronkite BSN, RN

Carrie has been a registered nurse for 14 years and works at a local hemodialysis outpatient center. She has experience in cardiac nursing, orthopedic rehabilitation and [...]