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Clinical Nurse Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Clinical nurse specialists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced-practice nurse who provides patient care and consultation services for a variety of health care areas. These professionals typically practice medicine, conduct research and manage staff within a specific type of patient population, medical specialty or setting. They are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who also have a master's or doctoral degree and specialized certification in the field.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree
Other Requirements RN license and clinical nurse specialist license or certification
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 19% for all RNs*
Median Salary (2015) $80,984**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Clinical Nurse Specialist Job Description and Duties

Clinical nurse specialists work in hospitals, clinics, medical offices and other health care facilities. They are usually experts in a specific area, such as gerontology, cardiovascular health or public policy. In addition to providing direct patient care and consultation, a clinical nurse specialist is typically involved in education, research and facility administration.

This profession encompasses a wide range of responsibilities. A clinical nurse specialist may treat a variety of patients and perform everything from basic wellness assessments to gynecological or mental health exams. They also provide consultations for patients and their families to make sure they understand a medical condition and options for treatment. Clinical nursing specialists often serve in a supervisory capacity over other nurses, and they may be directly involved in the management or administration of a clinic or facility.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, are expected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022, which is a higher rate than the average for all professions. In particular, the BLS emphasizes that clinical nurse specialists will be in increasingly strong demand (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that the median annual salary for registered nurses in 2014 was $66,640, while PayScale.com reports that clinical nurse specialists earned a median salary of $80,984 as of 2015.

Requirements: Education and Licensure

A clinical nurse specialist must be a registered nurse who obtains the additional education and experience to specialize. Graduate programs typically offer specific areas of specialization such as oncology, women's health or stem cell transplants.

Graduate Programs

Becoming a clinical nurse specialist requires obtaining an advanced degree, either a master's degree or doctorate in nursing. These programs build upon the student's undergraduate nursing education and professional experience and teach them the sociological strategy, advocacy training, management guidelines, research methods and critical-thinking skills.

In general, these programs require students to complete coursework in statistics, research, theory, health policy, epidemiology, pharmacology and advanced patient assessment. Depending on the area of specialty and program selected (full- or part-time), clinical nursing specialist graduate degree programs may be completed in 2-5 years.

Many programs include a practicum specific to an individual's course of study. For example, a mental health specialty program focuses on the scientific and sociological aspects of brain function and development. Those specializing in this field may work in a mental health facility to gain hands-on experience.

Licensure

All states required registered nurses to have graduated from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Some states may have additional licensure and certification requirements for clinical nursing specialists, which may include working minimum hours to obtain credentials or fulfilling continuing-education requirements.

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