Clinical Nurse Specialist Career and Degree Guide

What You’ll Do as a CNS: Clinical Nurse Specialist Job Description

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a venerable one-person show with five major responsibilities on their shoulders: Clinical practice, research, teaching, consulting, and management. Health care doesn’t operate with one set of guidelines, so a clinical nurse specialist job description is vital to the managed care movement. Because they’re also a patient advocate, it’s their job to coordinate money-saving services and resources but still provide optimal health outcomes.

If you thrive in environments where you can care for others, have a knack for complex problem solving and can take on a leadership role, the clinical nurse specialist role could be right up your alley. One of the best parts of being a CNS is the ability to work in a specialized area of health care, like acute care nursing or geriatric nursing.

What does a clinical nurse specialist job description entail?

The growth of managed care has made a clinical nurse specialist far from simple and straightforward. Their time is divvied up in a variety of ways with the ultimate goal of finding cost-saving measures and improving practices and outcomes.

On the job, clinical nurse specialist roles can vary depending on their specialty, but general tasks include:

  • Optimizing patient care by working with nursing staff. This includes evaluating current practices, reviewing alternatives, consultations with patient care managers and providing education to staff.
  • Make decisions on where to allocate staff and resources
  • Develop specialized treatment plans after patient examinations
  • Educating patients and families on how to best manage their conditions
  • Incorporate practices to promote staff teamwork
  • Analyze patient data and outcomes
  • Participate with colleagues on new research

Throw out the idea that nursing is all bedside care. If you’re interested in the inner workings of a health care organization and identifying better ways to do things, a clinical nurse specialist career could be right for you.

What education or certification will I need to become a clinical nurse specialist?

Becoming a clinical nurse specialist requires significant schooling because it’s one of the four advanced nursing practices, so plan on earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN). Because nursing is such a varied field, you’ll also choose a specialty to focus on. Learn more about what you’ll study.

You can earn your MSN either online or in a traditional classroom setting. Expect the courses to be more advanced than those in a bachelor’s degree program, but your undergraduate curriculum will serve as a fantastic building block. If you have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can find schools offering accelerated programs for Bachelor of Science (BSN) and MSNs degrees. These programs give you credit for your prior coursework which saves you money and time.

Then there’s the issue of certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certifies CNSs who meet eligibility requirements. The certification isn’t required in all 50 states, but it’s highly recommended because many employers require their CNSs to have it. Plus, it serves as “proof” that you know your stuff.

What career paths can I take as a clinical nurse specialist?

Because they’re trained as experts in the nursing field, clinical nurse specialists have the ability to work in a variety of settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Home health service
  • Private practice
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Health centers

Your career path will also be dependent on the specialization you are trained in. Specialties like geriatric nursing might land you in a nursing or long-term care facility whereas a women’s health specialty could help you find a job in a clinic or hospital maternity ward.

CNS programs will train students to be educators among their other duties, so it’s possible you could choose a path where mentoring is a large part of your job. CNSs are also well-versed in evidence-based nursing so research jobs are also a possibility. Learn about pay & job projections for clinical nurse specialists.

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