A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice registered nurse who has received a graduate-level degree—like a Master of Science in Nursing. Their training grants them greater flexibility than a typical nurse has. For example, they can interpret, diagnose, oversee patient issues, order tests, and refer patients to treatment facilities.
In this article we will explore the following:
- What does a CNS do?
- How do you choose a specialty?
- What is the difference between a CNS and a NP?
- How do you become a CNS?
- How much does a CNS earn?
What does a CNS do?
Clinical nurse specialists work in many different capacities. In general, they divide their time between caring for patients and coordinating with nurses and other healthcare team members. In many ways, a CNS is like a nurse manager.
More specifically, they work in the following capacities:
- Treating patients
- Creating and changing treatment plans
- Advising other nurses
- Providing feedback as an industry-expert
- Performing research
- Coordinating with other members of the healthcare team to enrich patient care
- Determining opportunities to meet needs and create new policies
In total, a clinical nurse specialist wields a lot of authority. They guide nurses in both leadership and mentoring roles. They also can enact a lot of change within the medical facility in which they work. Some even open their own practice and see patients individually. This position allows for direct patient care and advocacy in a way that’s unique and rewarding.
How do you choose a specialty?
When in school on track to become a CNS, a nurse will get a chance to choose a specialty. It’s essential they pick something that suits their personality and appeals to their career goals. The question then becomes, how to determine the right specialty?
The areas a CNS can work are categorized as follows:
- Patient population
- Medical setting
- Disease type
- Care required
- Specific patient problem
It’s important to take an inventory of past work history. What field of nursing has been the most enjoyable? It could be working with children, which would require a CNS to pursue a pediatric specialty. This position allows a nurse to work exclusively with children and provide them with excellent care and support.
A nurse may find they prefer working with women, focusing on reproductive health. In this case, they would pursue the gynecological specialty.
Another field a nurse may feel drawn to is the mental health field, which would require a psychiatric nursing specialty.
What is the difference between a CNS and NP?
The two positions overlap significantly. Yet, some distinctions separate both roles.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) conducted a study that showed the similarities between both roles. They surveyed 1,526 NPs and 1,344 CNSs and found that they both perform the following roles: :
- Take patient medical histories
- Provide physical examinations
- Analyze patient data to make evidence-based decisions
- Administer medications and other treatment methods
- Give leadership and educate other nurses on staff
Though the roles have a lot in common, the CNS position focuses more on administrative or research-oriented roles, while the nurse practitioner role is tailored to direct patient care. In many ways, the CNS takes a big-picture approach to provide healthcare, whereas the nurse practitioner is involved with direct patient care.
Though they have these principal differences, the fundamental mission of a nurse practitioner and a clinical nurse specialist is the same. They both want to provide patients with quality health care.
How do you become a CNS?
The first step to becoming a CNS involves gaining experience as a registered nurse. To earn an RN license, a potential nurse must graduate from an accredited nursing program. This can be either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). After the completion of a degree program, a graduate must pass the NCLEX-RN.
After a nurse gains some experience as an RN, they need to earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. This degree should emphasize a specific clinical nurse specialist track.
Following graduation, a nurse is required to get CNS certified. There are many different certifications that are administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certifications need to be reviewed every couple of years.
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How much does a CNS earn?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track CNS salary data. They include this position with registered nurses who diagnose diseases or are treating practitioners. Within this scope, a CNS makes approximately $82,380, according to the BLS.
If you recently received your CNS license and are interested in finding work, we’ve got you covered! You can sign up with Incredible Health and we will help you find a job in no time.
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