How to Become a Clinical Nurse in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for clinical nurses. Get the facts about job duties, education and licensure requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

As a clinical nurse, you'd conduct research as well as working in a particular medical department. You may also be called a clinical nurse specialist and focus on a specific disease or type of care. The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field, including education and licensure requirements.

Degree Required Master's degree or post-master's certificate
Education Field of Study Clinical nursing
Key Responsibilities Devise standards of nursing care; evaluate delivery of nursing services to patients; develop and implement care plans; create and oversee department policies
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as registered nurse (RN) is required; board certification in 8 clinical nursing specialties is available
Job Growth (2012-2022) 19% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2014) $96,162**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Is a Clinical Nurse?

As a clinical nurse, you work primary with healthcare providers providing patients with diagnosis, treatment and education in disease management and prevention. Working as a clinical nurse, you can work in a variety of settings, usually determined by your specialty. You are also involved in research and in improving healthcare delivery systems.

Step 1: Go to College

To become a clinical nurse, you need to become a registered nurse (RN). This requires you to complete a college program prior to licensing. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required to enroll in a graduate degree program. BSN courses are designed to teach you about patient care, physiology, assessment, diagnosis, medical terminology and pharmacology. During your education, you also have the opportunity to complete a clinical practicum, which provides you with the experience necessary to work in a healthcare facility.

Step 2: Obtain an RN License

After graduating with a BSN, you are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) offers the NCLEX-RN in order to certify registered nurses. You're urged to check with your state's board of nursing for exact licensing requirements.

Step 3: Decide on a Specialty

There are a number of areas you can consider when it comes to specialties. Nurses work in many departments, providing care for cardiac patients, surgical patients, pediatric patients and many others. Before continuing your education, you must decide what area you want to specialize in.

Step 4: Continue Your Education

There are two routes you can consider to become a clinical nurse. The first is to study clinical nursing in a master's degree program. These programs prepare you for work in emergency, internal and long-term healthcare facilities as a clinical nurse specialist. Most programs take approximately two years to complete and culminate in a Master of Science in Nursing.

The second option is to complete a master's degree program in general nursing and then earn a post-master's certificate in clinical nursing. The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists provides a directory listing over 200 clinical nurse programs in various specialties (

Step 5: Obtain Certification

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the main certification body for clinical nurses ( The ANCC offers certification for eight specialties, including pediatric, gerontology, home health, diabetes management and adult health. Certification can be renewed every five years if you meet the continuing education requirements.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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