Advancing Your Career | Leadership | Specialties

Clinical Nurse Specialist: A Notable Profession

  • Have you heard of clinical nurse specialists? Are you wondering, What does this type of nurse do?   
  • Lets break it down and cover everything you should know about clinical nurse specialists! 
  • A clinical nurse specialist or CNS is a type of advanced practice nurse who works to improve patient outcomes by means of analyzing and improving processes to achieve quality and efficiency.

Sadia Arshad


July 25, 2022
Simmons University

You’re here because you’re wondering what is a clinical nurse specialist! A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse. They are educated and trained in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and physical assessment.  

CNSs often specialize in a particular health care field, such as geriatrics or emergency room care. Their primary role is to provide high quality, cost-effective specialty care. 

When I first started to read about nursing and the different nursing specialties, I wondered about the differences between CNSs and other nursing professions.  

Navigating health care as a patient and navigating health care paths are both complicated. Whether you are curious about entering the nursing profession or wondering who took care of you at your last visit, this post is for you!

clinical nurse specialist position

Education of Clinical Nurse Specialist

CNSs are a type of advanced practice registered nurses who have a graduate-level degree in clinical nursing. If you are interested in becoming a CNS, many CNS nursing programs often require some nursing experience in the field in which you would like to specialize. 

Salary of a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Salary varies by state and place of employment, such as a hospital or private practice. Typically, hospitals pay more than private practices, and CNSs with more experience tend to have a higher salary than recent graduates.

According to, the average salary for a CNS is $112,000. Note that this average varies depending on experience, location, and place of work. 

Where Does a Clinical Nurse Specialist Work?

CNSs can work in many locations, such as: 

  • Clinical research facilities 
  • Public health departments 
  • Hospitals 
  • Ambulatory health centers 
  • Military health services 
  • Palliative and hospice care facilities 
  • Pharmaceutical companies 
  • Telehealth start-ups 
  • Correctional facilities 
  • Community health centers, and more

Clinical nurse specialists can also work as independent consultants, teach at nursing schools, or serve in healthcare management.


clinical nurse specialist overview

Scope of Practice

The CNS is often known as the jack of all trades in nursing since they tend to have the experience and education to do many tasks! Four fundamental CNS roles include: clinician, researcher, educator, and consultant.  

Key responsibilities of a clinical nurse specialist include:  

  • Evaluate present practices in a health care facility 
  • Educate staff on health care efficiencies and quality control 
  • Develop customized nursing treatment plans 
  • Perform patient assessment 
  • Administer immunizations  
  • Engage in nursing research 
  • Work in collaboration with other health care professionals  
  • and of course, educate patients as needed

This is just a sample of what CNSs can do! The scope of work for a CNS strongly depends on their training, local boards of nursing, workplace practices, and local legislation.  

Clinical Nurse Specialist vs Nurse Practitioner

There are several nurse practitioner specialties, such as pediatrics and midwifery. There are also several clinical nurse specialties, such as home health and oncology. NPs and CNSs are both advanced practice registered nurses.

They both provide patient care, yet a CNS tends to have less practice autonomy.  In addition, they both require a graduate-level degree in nursing.  

The main difference between a CNS and a NP is that a CNS is more focused on improving patient outcomes and providing nurses with education. A CNS is often placed in a role where they oversee processes and systems in a health care facility in order to determine efficiency and quality.  NPs often see patients directly for one-on-one care and educate as appropriate.  

It is also important to note that clinical nurse specialists have often been leaders in nursing management, public health education, and quality improvement systems over the past few decades.  

While the CNS career path might not seem as popular, it is still a viable career route for anyone interested in direct patient care, patient outcomes, and health care efficiency.  

If you are considering being a clinical nurse specialist, I would recommend that you ask yourself if you are passionate about healthcare system quality and want to be a leader in the nursing community. 

clinical nurse specialist jobs

Professional Resources

If you are thinking about becoming a clinical nurse specialist or learning more about the profession, I would recommend looking into the National Association for Clinical Nurse Specialists or the American Nurses Association 

You can also learn about the impressive work of clinical nurse specialists by reading the Clinical Nurse Specialist: The International Journal for Advanced Nursing Practice or the Journal of Issues in Nursing. 

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