How Do You Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

As you explore career possibilities as a nurse, you may be looking into how to become a clinical nurse specialist. A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a registered nurse with an advanced degree who provides medical care in a specific setting, for a specific population, or for a specific type of illness or ailment. According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS), there are over 67,000 nurses working in this role in the United States.

Education Needed to Become a CNS

Before becoming an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN or APRN) of any kind, including a CNS, one must first become a registered nurse. The usual route to accomplish that goal is either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, followed by the passing of a national exam to obtain the RN license. While nurses still enter the profession via the shorter, two-year degree, it is becoming more standard and more encouraged to obtain the four-year degree. Among other advantages, the BSN provides a stepping stone to obtain a graduate degree that enables a nurse to become an Advanced Practice Nurse.

A graduate degree is required in order to become a clinical nurse specialist. This may either be a masters degree (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The DNP is becoming more of a standard in the profession and it is believed that within the near future, it will be the entry level required degree. For now, however, the masters degree is still a common route to becoming a CNS. In addition to the graduate degree, a clinical nurse specialist also must pass a certification exam qualifying them to work as a CNS.

General and Specialized Roles of the Clinical Nurse Specialist

A lot of education is required in preparation for work as a CNS, because the job is so important. A CNS is a healthcare expert involved in both diagnosis and treatment of illness. A clinical nurse specialist may work with a specific population, such as children or the elderly, or with a specific disease or pathology, such as cardiovascular disease or oncology. Sometimes a CNS specializes according to a work environment, such as the emergency room or critical care. According to the NACNS, a clinical nurse specialist might also specialize in specific kinds of care or problems, such as pain management or rehabilitation. Your preparatory and ongoing education as a CNS may depend in part on the areas in which you choose to specialize.

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Becoming a CNS will mean spending time in developing expert clinical skills in a given area as well as strong overall leadership skills. The NACNS highlights both of those areas as well as collaborative and consultation skills in their discussion of preparation for clinical nurse specialists. They also stress the importance of overall professional conduct and strong ethics. If moving your nursing career to the advanced level is a path you want to pursue, then it can be a good idea to explore more about how to become a clinical nurse specialist.