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Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification and Certificate Programs

Learn about prerequisites and course topics for clinical nurse specialist programs. Find out about salary information, job projections and professional certification through a nurse credentialing organization.

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Essential Information

A clinical nurse specialist is a registered nurse (RN) who has shown competency in a specific area of nursing care. Working RNs can enter Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) certificate programs to gain specialized education and training for potential career advancement. Program participants can choose from a number of specialties, including diabetes management, gerontology, family practice, adult health, pediatrics and community health.

CNS certificate programs can be completed in 1-2 years and are primarily available via 4-year education institutions. Many certificate programs require a minimum number of clinical hours and/or work experience hours. Graduates of these programs can pursue specialty certifications.

Educational Prerequisites

CNS certificate programs are post-master's programs, and therefore require incoming candidates to have at least a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Previous training should be from a program that has accreditation from a commission such as the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. A current RN license is required for program consideration.

Course Topics

Education in CNS certificate programs is centered on advanced nursing practices. Specific courses vary based on a student's chosen specialty, such as geriatric care, adult health or family practice nursing. Common courses may include:

  • Advanced practice nursing theory
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Diagnostic reasoning
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Resource development & financial management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Research methodology
  • CNS practicum
  • Healthcare ethical issues
  • Pathophysiology

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

Employment growth for registered nurses, which includes advanced practice nurses, should be excellent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with a growth rate of 22% from 2008-2018 ( Nurses who are willing to work in medically underserved locations such as rural areas and inner cities will have some of the best job opportunities. Most nurses will continue to work in hospitals, but doctor's offices and home healthcare services will also see employment of RNs increase rapidly throughout the decade.

According to, clinical nurse specialists earn a wide range of salaries, with annual earnings ranging from $56,132-102,330. For clarification, the BLS reports that the mean annual salary for RNs was $67,720 as of 2010. The top ten percent of earners made $95,130 or more per year. CNS earnings are included in those RN figures. In California, there were more nurses employed than any other state, and on average they earned the highest salaries as well.

Professional Certification and Continuing Education

Graduates holding CNS certificates should be prepared for certification examination offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, or ANCC ( The ANCC has certification exams for several nursing specialties, such as pediatrics and adult health. Certification candidates must have an advanced nursing degree or post-graduate certificate and a valid nursing license. Continuing education is required every five years in order to maintain certification. Additionally, the ANCC offers career enrichment and professional organization affiliations for medical professionals.

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