Clinical Nurse Specialist Career and Degree Guide

Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary Guide

A clinical nurse specialist’s range of responsibilities puts this advanced nursing job’s salary above average in the nursing field.

nurse talking with specialists at table

Working as a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) requires leadership skills, nursing skills, and advanced clinical knowledge in a specialty area. Because of these job duties, CNSs are well compensated for the demands of their job.

Median Annual Clinical Nurse Salary

Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies CNSs under the category of registered nurses. However, RNs like CNSs who are healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners can earn a higher salary—an average of $100,000—according to the BLS.

Registered Nurses

National data

Median Salary: $81,220

Projected job growth: 5.6%

10th Percentile: $61,250

25th Percentile: $66,680

75th Percentile: $101,100

90th Percentile: $129,400

Projected job growth: 5.6%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $63,090 $48,820 $82,760
Alaska $102,260 $80,950 $127,280
Arizona $82,330 $66,040 $105,520
Arkansas $64,130 $37,630 $83,700
California $132,660 $84,700 $177,670
Colorado $82,430 $66,130 $107,260
Connecticut $95,210 $71,050 $119,600
Delaware $82,230 $64,100 $101,110
District of Columbia $98,970 $66,260 $135,260
Florida $77,710 $61,190 $100,060
Georgia $79,440 $60,400 $118,270
Hawaii $120,100 $76,640 $137,710
Idaho $77,940 $61,530 $100,440
Illinois $78,980 $62,180 $102,080
Indiana $73,290 $55,200 $95,600
Iowa $65,000 $56,330 $83,360
Kansas $66,460 $52,010 $93,120
Kentucky $75,800 $56,120 $98,540
Louisiana $73,180 $57,500 $95,540
Maine $77,340 $61,170 $100,910
Maryland $83,850 $64,680 $106,910
Massachusetts $98,520 $67,480 $154,160
Michigan $79,180 $64,270 $100,920
Minnesota $84,060 $65,500 $107,960
Mississippi $63,330 $49,980 $84,030
Missouri $71,460 $51,440 $94,340
Montana $76,550 $62,930 $98,970
Nebraska $74,990 $58,900 $93,230
Nevada $94,930 $74,200 $130,200
New Hampshire $80,550 $62,790 $104,270
New Jersey $98,090 $76,650 $118,150
New Mexico $81,990 $64,510 $106,300
New York $100,370 $64,840 $132,950
North Carolina $76,430 $59,580 $100,430
North Dakota $69,640 $60,780 $91,150
Ohio $76,810 $61,860 $98,380
Oklahoma $74,520 $53,560 $97,520
Oregon $106,680 $81,470 $131,210
Pennsylvania $78,740 $61,450 $101,450
Rhode Island $85,960 $65,260 $104,790
South Carolina $75,610 $52,620 $93,190
South Dakota $62,920 $51,240 $80,860
Tennessee $65,800 $51,270 $95,490
Texas $79,830 $61,950 $105,270
Utah $77,240 $61,850 $98,000
Vermont $77,230 $60,900 $101,570
Virginia $79,700 $61,970 $104,410
Washington $101,230 $77,460 $131,230
West Virginia $74,160 $47,640 $96,470
Wisconsin $79,750 $65,110 $100,820
Wyoming $77,730 $60,910 $102,010

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with graduate degrees and increased responsibilities, most CNSs earn salaries that fall within the high-earning ranges. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors.

What’s My Earning Potential as a CNS?

Clinical nurse specialists have a unique role in that they can work as primary care providers while still serving as leaders of nursing teams, best-practices consultants, researchers, teachers, and facilitators of policy change. Since the need for nurses is high, you’re more apt to find job security in this field. Plus, the responsibility of being in a leadership role can translate into a better-paying job.

A clinical nurse specialist’s earning potential can vary based on their employer, education, and area of specialty, but generally, the salary range is at the high end in the nursing industry. Your earnings might increase if you’re open to relocating, says Kenny Kadar, president of Coast Medical Services, a nurse staffing agency based in Los Angeles.

“Opportunities are especially lucrative and exciting for CNSs willing to travel across the country and go where their skills are needed,” says Kadar.

How Do CNS Salaries Compare?

CNS salaries are above the average for all nurses, and comparable to several other advanced nursing roles.

Career Median Annual Salary
Registered Nurses $81,220
Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary $100,300
Nurse Midwives $120,880
Nurse Practitioners $121,610
Nurse Anesthetists $203,090

Is There Demand for this Career?

Clinical nurse specialists, like all nursing careers, are in high demand. Because they are one of the advanced nurse practices, they are particularly sought-after. Like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists can work as primary care providers but at a lesser cost to patients than a physician. This benefit is crucial in geographic areas with limited access to healthcare such as rural communities.

Clinical nurse specialists often work as primary care providers.

As the topic of health care costs remains part of the national conversation, clinical nurse specialists will also be looked upon to help. Because part of their job is to improve healthcare quality while reducing costs, CNSs will be in demand for their expertise. Their role as mentor and coach is also necessary as new nurses enter the field. Businesses may look to CNSs as a resource for promoting wellness initiatives and preventive measures among employees.

“If you’re considering a career in the nursing field or pondering building on your existing nursing skills, now is an optimal time to begin your journey,” says Kadar. “The niche expertise and graduate-level knowledge of certified clinical nurse specialists make them an invaluable asset to any healthcare setting.”

What’s the Job Growth for the Field?

The demand for clinical nursing specialties is expected to keep growing. As healthcare continues to expand and change, the need for educated nurses in advanced roles, such as CNSs, will grow along with it. 

“If you look at the nursing population, we have baby boomers who are going to retire,” says Manjulata Evatt, DNP, RN, CMSRN, an assistant professor and program coordinator at Duquesne School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “and new leaders won’t generate overnight. It takes time. So if people don’t start now, who will become the leaders in the next five years?”

What Degree Do I Need to Become a CNS?

A CNS is an advanced nursing role, so you’ll need an advanced degree. You’ll need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) before you can work as a CNS. You’ll learn advanced clinical skills in your master’s program, and you’ll study nursing theory and research. Your degree will help you get the skills you need to take on this important leadership role. You’ll also need to earn certification. The certification you need will depend on your specialty and state.

How Do I Advance in My CNS Career?

The best way to advance your career is through education. While you’ll need to hold a master’s degree to practice, there is the option to advance further and earn a doctorate. This advanced degree can help you expand your leadership role and your salary.

It’s also becoming increasingly common. In fact, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) has recommended a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as the standard entry-level degree for the field by 2030. So if you can, earning a DNP is a great career move. It can help you advance your career now and will prepare you for changes to the field in the future.

The industry is leaning toward requiring that CNSs hold a doctorate—not just a master’s degree—by 2030.

You can also help advance your career by completing continuing education courses or getting published in peer-reviewed books or journals. In addition to strengthening your resume, these are both considered acceptable certification renewal criteria by the American Nurses Association Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certification renewal is required of CNSs every five years.

Where You’ll Work as a CNS

Clinical nurse specialists hold a unique set of skills and knowledge, which makes them integral to a variety of health care settings. Your work as a CNS might take you well beyond the bedside into settings throughout your community. Where you work is also dependent on your specialty. Some of the places you might find a CNS job include:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practice
  • Clinics
  • Home health care facilities
  • Health centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Public health centers
  • Police departments
  • Insurance companies

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Dr. Manjulata Evatt, DNP, RN, CMSRN

Assistant Professor/RN-BSN Program Coordinator, Duquesne School of Nursing

Kenny Kadar

President of Coast Medical Service