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Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Certification Requirements

Clinical nurse specialists are nurses who have special expertise in a particular area of healthcare, such as pediatrics or mental health. Learn about the education requirements and certification process for this career.

What Will I Do as a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a nurse who specializes in a certain area of the healthcare field, such as pediatrics, gerontology, child/adolescent psychiatry and mental health, adult psychiatry and mental health, or adult health, for example. You will provide direct care to patients and serve as an expert consultant to the nursing staff.

Specializations Adolescent psychiatry, pediatrics, mental health, gerontology, adult health
Prerequisites Master's degree and a current nursing license is required
Certification Requirements Registered Nurse license, an advanced degree, and completed clinical hours are required for certification
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 26% growth (for all nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners)*
Median Salary (2018)$113,930 (for all nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need?

It is necessary to have a master's degree in nursing as well as a nursing license in order to be a clinical nurse specialist. Many states also require you to also go through a certification process in order to be licensed to practice as a clinical nurse specialist. Some schools offer a specialized clinical nurse specialist degree, while others offer options or concentrations for those who are interested in this career path. Some schools offer online programs as well.

How Does the Certification Process Work?

The certification exam is run by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) (http://www.nursecredentialing.org), which is a part of the American Nurses Association (ANA). The ANCC offers certification exams in several specialty areas as well as a core exam.

The ANCC requires you to be a licensed registered nurse in the state you practice in and hold an advanced degree with a specialization in your field before you may take the certification exam. They also request you to have 500 supervised clinical hours in a CNS role in your chosen CNS field.

ANCC certifications are valid for five years and then will need to be renewed. Certification is available in the following areas:

  • Adult Health
  • Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health
  • Child Adolescent Psych & Mental Health
  • CNS Core Exam
  • Home Health
  • Gerontological
  • Pediatric
  • Public/Community Health

Each exam costs between $270 and $395 for 2016 certification, depending on whether you are a member of ANA or another organization. ANCC's website also lists eligibility requirements and offers resources for preparing for the certification exam.