Clinical Nurse Specialist Training and Education Program Summaries

Oct 18, 2019

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a healthcare professional who specializes in a particular field of clinical nursing, such as adult critical care or neonatal clinical care. Education programs are available at the graduate level.

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Essential Information

Programs in the field of specialized clinical nursing are only available at the master's level. Interested individuals apply to a Master of Science in Nursing - Clinical Nurse Specialist program and choose from a wide variety of concentrations on which their training will focus. Students then gain the knowledge and skills needed for the profession through classroom lectures and clinical experience. Once completed, graduates must obtain licensure in order to begin working.

Prerequisites include a bachelor's degree, registered nurse licensure, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, resume, and some programs require a year of clinical nursing. Specializations include specific illnesses (diabetes, cancer, etc.), specific populations (women's health, pediatrics, etc.), or modes of care (palliative, hospice, etc.). Clinical rotations are also common.

Master of Science in Nursing - Clinical Nurse Specialist

The exact nature of the coursework in these programs is determined largely by the area of specialization chosen by the student. For example, those who specialize in specific illnesses will have coursework in the pathology and treatment of different chronic diseases. Core classes cover broader topics in nursing and medical research. Students may take core classes such as:

  • Nursing research methods
  • Diagnostic tools in advanced nursing
  • Health services outcome analysis
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nursing and chronic health problems

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, job opportunities for all kinds of registered nurses are expected to increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also states that clinical nurse specialists will be in high demand, particularly in the inner cities and other under-represented areas. Additionally, as the science of nursing care continues to evolve, the areas of specialty care will continue to expand. The median annual salary for nurse practitioners, including clinical nurse specialists, was $107,030 in May 2018.

Continuing Education Information

To practice professionally as a clinical nurse specialist, individuals must first be licensed. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, all states require individuals to have completed an educational program at an accredited institution and to have passed a national licensing exam.

In addition to the graduate-level education required of clinical nurse specialists, those entering this field should anticipate substantial on-the-job training. CNS professionals function as integral members of a healthcare team and the methods and means of providing care to patients will differ between institutions. The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists is a trade organization that has additional information on education, licensure, training, and employment opportunities (

For those who want to continue their studies beyond the master's degree level, there are Doctor of Nursing Science degree programs available. These programs prepare individuals for senior leadership positions in academia and the healthcare industry.

Clinical nursing degrees are only available at the master's level and coursework is determined by the chosen area of specialty. There is substantial on-the-job training and Doctor of Nursing Science degree programs are available.

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