Clinical Nurse Specialist Career Info

Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) are advanced practice nurses. The most descriptive part of the job title is the word "specialist". They specialize in a range of very variable roles from diseases to surgery.

The work environment

Clinical nurse specialists are unique in their role as case managers. As senior nurses, they manage services and resources. As specialists, they fill some parts of the role of nurse practitioners as well. 

They fill very important niches in clinical care, providing a complete range of skills and services. Clinical operations have to be efficiently managed, and a built-in specialist is exactly what they need to do that. Their focus is on their specialties, and that creates a different working environment to other expert general nurses, whose roles cover a range of functions.

The basic roles of a CNS are a good indication of the scope of their skills and qualifications:

  • Clinical duties
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Consulting
  • Operational management

All of these are particularly important roles, both organizationally and in terms of services provided.  The teaching role alone, essential in nursing studies is a strictly formal role, a demanding job of itself which can only be done by senior nurses.  Research in a clinical environment is often the province of PhDs, another indication of the technical skills of the CNS.

This capacity for multiple roles in such important areas is why the CNS is such a highly valued part of the organization. The job is demanding by any standards, but the CNS is unique, too. The specialist role also covers managed care, real case work, with the related considerations of treatment, and monitoring progress of patients.

Some representative areas of specialization include:

  • Neonatal care
  • Geriatric care
  • Cardiovascular care
  • Community health care
  • Prenatal nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Rehabilitation nursing
  • School health nursing
  • Women's health care

You can see how valuable the work of a CNS can be in these areas in terms of the types of services involved. These are all essential services, and the world's highly stretched health care services need every CNS they can get.

Wages: Median range is approximately $70,000 variable on nature of role and in some cases independent practices operated by the nurses.

Hours: Clinical hours, shifts, appointment based, or as required.

The career environment

Clinical nurses are so highly qualified at baseline level that they're almost by definition potential PhD candidates. They can advance their professional qualifications to very high levels. Appropriately enough, they can move into areas like advanced research in their specialities quite easily. They also have opportunities for career progression in their roles as teachers and managers.

There are also some potentially high level career opportunities. Advanced practice nurses have a qualitative advantage in many roles in the health care industry. They have both the qualifications and the specializations to fit into many modern business models in the industry. They "speak the language" of other medical specialists, and have a range of capabilities which are particularly effective in the clinical environment. One of the natural progressions of the CNS career is as an independent consultancy practice.

Clinical nurses are a good example of the scope and diversity of modern nursing and the nursing profession of the future.