How do I become a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) is an advanced area of practice. They generally are Registered Nurses (RNs) who have earned their online master’s degree and have been certified as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Let’s explore the career field of the CNS.

The CNS typically can gain certification in certain areas, however, although other specialties can be of focus, not all have a certification credential available. Several areas that do provide certifications are orthopedics, critical care, oncology, gerontology, psychiatric, home health and community health. CNSs focus on the advancement of care according to their specialty within a hospital, outpatient, corporate or community health centers. Certified Nursing Specialists often are hired as educators and consultants to the nursing staff due to their expertise in a particular field.

The CNS earns a higher salary than the traditional RN due to their extensive educational background and specialty within one area. A Clinical Nurse Specialist earns a median salary of $99,550 annually with an average range from between $89,999 – $120,000 per year, depending on the area of specialization, experience, educational degree and job location. This is a lucrative career option and a smart career goal because more and more employers are looking for RNs with advanced degrees.

There are several steps to becoming a CNS, but, as with anything worthwhile, it will be worth it. First, of course, you must begin your journey as a Registered Nurse (RN) and having passed the NCLEX-RN examination, you must gain experience by working one to two years before applying to a Clinical Nurse Specialist program.

Next, you will need to apply to an accredited program to earn your online master’s degree. To enroll, you will need to have already earned your online Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and had at least two years of nursing experience in the field of study in which you wish to specialize. There are many CNS courses available online if convenience and flexibility are important to you, however, you will need to be able to fulfill your extensive clinical requirements, as well…possibly up to 500 hours or more.

Coursework for the CNS may vary; however, most will consist of exploring nursing concepts, pathophysiology, research, individual and family development, physiologic concepts, role development, in addition to, advanced physical assessment skills and clinical decision-making approaches. Some states allow a CNS to prescribe medications. If allowed in your state, then you must meet their prescription authority requirements.

After you have completed your CNS training, nurses must pass a national licensure exam issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). To qualify to sit for the exam, you must have a valid RN license, proof of graduation from an accredited Certified Nurse Specialist program and proof of your 500 worked clinical hours in your specified area of expertise. You must own passing grades in pharmacology, physical assessment graduate level courses and advanced pathophysiology.

Your certification will consist of a computer-based exam, which is offered year-round and the fee to take the exam may range from between $270 – $395, depending on your membership status with the American Nurses Association or the American Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists. Certifications must be renewed every five years with renewal fees ranging from $200 – $350.

While researching potential nursing careers, please consider our Top Online Nursing Degree Programs for your convenience.