How Can I Become a Certified Nurse Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a certified nurse specialist. Learn about education and certification requirements, as well as salary and job outlook stats, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Nurse Specialist?

A certified nurse specialist is also known as a clinical nurse specialist, and this is one of the advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) roles. Nurse specialists see patients and assess their condition. They may order tests, then use the test results and information from their assessment to diagnose patients. They develop treatment plans, prescribe medication and may also oversee the medical staff that provide the treatments for their patients. Some certified nurse specialists focus on a particular branch of medical care, such as psychiatric, geriatric or pediatric health. Research and advocacy work may also be part of a certified nurse specialist's duties. See how to enter this career field via the table below:

Degree Required Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Licensure Registered Nurse (RN) license
Certification CNS certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 16% (all registered nurses)
Median Salary (2015)* $67,490 (all registered nurses)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Certified Nurse Specialist?

Certified nurse specialists are also registered nurses (RNs) with graduate-level education in clinical medicine. As a certified nurse specialist, you would perform much of the same work as physicians, including diagnosing patients and administering medications.

The areas of specialization that you could choose for your work as a CNS include women's health, diabetes, eating disorders and other fields. You could work in a hospital, educational institution, private practice, clinic or long-term care facility. Your role would also include consulting with other nursing personnel and organizations in order to improve efficiency and quality in various healthcare facilities.

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

Most certified nurse specialists first complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and then move onto a master's degree program. BSN programs combine classroom education with clinical experience to provide you with the fundamental knowledge and practical experience to begin work as an RN. After earning your BSN, you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination, which you need to pass to obtain your nursing license.

After completing your undergraduate nursing program and passing the licensure exam, you can apply to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs. MSN programs offer specializations in many areas, so finding a clinical nursing specialist program with the specific focus you'd like to study is necessary. Most MSN programs combine didactic courses with supervised clinical practice and take two years to complete.

How Can I Get Certified?

The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers CNS certifications in various specialty areas, including gerontology, community health and diabetes. You need an active RN license and have completed a master's degree program in nursing to be eligible for certification exams. Every state has its own standards of practice for nursing personnel, and you need to meet your state nursing board's specific requirements and regulations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Occupational therapists and physician assistants are medical professionals who share some common duties with certified nurse specialists. All of these professionals see patients and perform patient assessments. They may order tests or conduct tests to get more information about the patient's condition. Additionally, these professionals all diagnose patients and develop patient treatment plans. Physician assistants may also prescribe medication, which is something a certified nurse specialist may do. Occupational therapists and physician assistants need a master's degree in their field.

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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