Clinical Nurse Specialist Career Profile

Female nurse preparing medical records at desk

Hero Images / Getty Images

A clinical nurse specialist is a registered nurse who has completed a master's level or doctorate level education as a CNS. Most clinical nurse specialists are also considered advanced practice nurses (APN).

A CNS is considered a “specialist” because their education is focused, or specialized, in a certain medical specialty, (e.g. orthopedics, oncology) or a particular medical setting, (critical care, ER) or a patient population such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

Areas of Expertise

The area of clinical expertise for a CNS may be in a:

  • Population (e.g. pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health)
  • Setting (e.g. critical care, emergency room)
  • Disease or medical subspecialty (e.g. diabetes, oncology)
  • Type of care (e.g. psychiatric, rehabilitation)
  • Type of health problem (e.g. pain, wounds, stress)

Job Responsibilities

In addition to conventional nursing responsibilities, which focus on helping patients to prevent or resolve illness, a clinical nurse specialist’s scope of practice includes diagnosing and treating diseases, injuries and/or disabilities within his/her field of expertise. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care, serve as expert consultants for nursing staffs and take an active role in improving healthcare delivery systems. Clinical nurse specialists often work in management positions and may also develop or work with a team to develop policies and procedures.

Clinical nurse specialists may also work with research — by translating research findings into patient care, evaluating research proposals, overseeing the design of evidence-based practice studies, applying research results to practice, or coming up with new evidence-based standards and protocols.

There are approximately 72,000 clinical nurse specialists in the United States, practicing in settings across the span of healthcare delivery systems, including hospitals, clinics, private practice, schools, nursing homes, corporations, and prisons. According to a survey by the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, most clinical nurse specialists work in inpatient hospital settings.

In addition to providing patient care, clinical nurse specialists may work in supervisory roles and in administrative positions. Some clinical nurse specialists provide consulting services for nurses in their organization while others work to improve healthcare systems.

Job Outlook

Demand for advanced practice nurses, like clinical nurse specialists, is expected to grow 31 percent between 2012 and 2022. According to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, clinical nurse specialists are very satisfied with their work, with over 91 percent being moderately or extremely satisfied.


Salaries for clinical nurse specialists range from $65,000 to over $110,000 depending on specialty and geographic location.

Ideal Candidates

  • Able to make informed decisions about health assessment and treatment
  • Enjoys working with teams of medical professionals to improve patient care and the treatment of specific illnesses and disorders
  • Communicates easily with patients, patients’ families, other health caregivers, and administrators
  • Enthusiastic about creating positive change in patient care through leadership and management skills, as well as education and coaching


A certification for CNS is available for some CNS specialties, but not all of them. The certifying board varies based on the specialty in which a CNS is seeking certification.

For a complete list of specialties and certifications, visit the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists.

Was this page helpful?