Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist is one of the four major advanced practice roles for nurses. Although requirements for becoming a clinical nurse specialist vary by state, they are generally registered nurses who hold both a master’s degree in nursing and certification as a clinical nurse specialist from an approved national certifying body, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

Each national certifying body has its own requirements, which generally include a master’s degree, a certain level of experience and a certification examination. Individuals should check with their state boards of nursing to determine which certifications are accepted.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Role

Clinical nurse specialists are responsible for applying expert knowledge and experience to a specific patient population, such as adult acute and critical care, in a clinical setting. In contrast with nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists often function as educators and consultants to the nursing staff and as experts on ensuring evidence-based practice and quality patient outcomes. The AACN has designated the following as core competencies for clinical nurse specialists: direct care, consultation, system leadership, collaboration, coaching of staff, research, and interpretation of evidence.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Scope of Practice

Clinical nurse specialists work within a specialty area defined by various parameters. They may work with a specific population such as adults or children, a specific setting such as the emergency room, or a certain health specialty such as pain, cardiovascular, oncology and gynecology. Their expertise within their specialty area allows them to be good consultants and coaches to other staff members.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

There are many steps to becoming a clinical nurse specialist. Prior education, certification and clinical practice are among the requirements for being accepted into a relevant graduate program, like an online MSN program. Here is a step-by-step path you can take to become a clinical nurse specialist.

  1. Become a registered nurse. In order to apply to a clinical nurse specialist program, you must have completed a degree in registered nursing and be certified as a registered nurse in a U.S. state or territory.
  2. Apply to programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. These programs must be master’s, postgraduate or doctoral programs.
  3. Complete 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours related to the clinical nurse specialist role and population, according to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists - Criteria for CNS Programs.
  4. Apply to take the exam relevant to your specialty administered by the ANCC to earn your CNS certification. The exam tests clinical knowledge and skills.
  5. Apply for state CNS certification in the state where you wish to practice.
  6. Once you have earned your clinical nurse specialist certification, it must be renewed every five years. In addition to renewing certification through the board, renewal through the state is also required and may require additional fulfillment of continuing education contact hours.
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Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Certifications

Types of Certification: ANCC - Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AGCNS-BC)

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Active RN license
  • Master’s degree or higher from a clinical nurse specialist program
  • At least 500 clinical hours in adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist role
  • Separate coursework in advanced physiology/ pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology
  • Other coursework in health promotion and/or maintenance and differential diagnosis and disease management

Fees:

  • American Nurses Association Member: $295
  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners Member: $340
  • Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association: $340
  • National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: $340
  • Non-Member: $395

Renewal:
Certifications must be renewed every five years. Renewal applications are due at least three months before your certification expiration date. A total of 75 contact hours are required for renewal, of which 25 must be in pharmacotherapeutics.

Information for the ANCC - Adult-Gerontology CNS certification was retrieved as of December 2019. For the most up-to-date information, refer to the ANCC website above.

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