The CNS, or A Clinical Nurse Specialist, is a nurse with a graduate degree who focuses on specific patient populations or in certain types of injuries, diseases, medical environments or procedures. The CNS is an advanced practice nurse who routinely fulfills duties such as clinical practice, teaching, research, consulting and management. CNSs are valuable resources for any health organization, as they provide quality improvement and resource management.

Prerequisites for Becoming a CNS

The CNS is a nurse who has developed an affinity to a certain specialty within the nursing profession. If the RN has discovered that his or her training to date has focused on diabetes management within a pediatric setting, that nurse may consider specializing in that disease within that patient population. To do so, that registered nurse may obtain a master’s degree (MSN).

One advantage that the hopeful CNS holds is the current high demand for qualified clinical nurse specialists. Many colleges and universities may accommodate nurses who seek specialized training with a lengthy clinical rotation and appropriate hands-on training. Most CNS programs take two years to complete on a full-time basis. The CNS program provides a master’s degree. Once the CNS obtains the degree, he or she must sit for certification exams. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a nationally recognized CNS certification that can be taken once the master’s degree is completed.

Careers Available After Becoming a CNS

The primary goal of the CNS is to improve patient outcomes and nursing care in any given health care setting. The CNS will work with other nurses to advance their nursing skills and to affect system-wide changes. These changes affect patient and family care, nursing personnel and organization of any health care system. In some cases, the CNS also is recognized as a case manager, or a person who organizes and coordinates services and resources to control costs.

The CNS plays a huge role in educational services, which cover patient, non-nursing and nursing staff, community and student nurse education. This role is an excellent choice for any RN who excels in clinical care and who wants to positively influence patient care systems. The roles of clinical practitioner, teacher, researcher and manager can translate into careers within hospitals, long-term care facilities, health care agencies and specialized practice in cancer care centers or burn units. Or, this nurse can become a consultant and work independently within a variety of nursing specialties.

The average starting salary of a CNS is about $50,000 annually with generous pay increases for experience and education. Location and the health care environment also play a role in the CNS income level. Many CNSs go on to earn much higher incomes as nurses within administration, where they formulate health care plans that can change the overall standards of care at many health facilities.

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Top 10 Online Nursing Schools

University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix — BSN, MSN, and Certificate. The University of Phoenix is the nation's largest online university and currently offers several nursing programs at three different degree levels, based on previous nursing education and experience.

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Kaplan University
Kaplan University — Bachelor's, and Master's Nursing Degrees. Kaplan's School of Nursing offers specializations for nurse administrators and nurse educators.

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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University — BS in Nursing (BSN) and MBA/MS in Nursing. Grand Canyon University offers a unique MBA/MS in nursing degree program that teaches students about the business aspect of healthcare, specifically nursing healthcare. Current nurses who want more business experience will find this may be an ideal fit.

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Liberty University
Liberty University — RN to BSN Degree and MSN Degree. The Department of Nursing at Liberty prepares students for baccalaureate level nursing, putting strong emphasis on Christian ethical standards and viewing nursing as a ministry of caring.

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Walden University
Walden University — M.S. in Nursing (RN Track), M.S in Nursing (BSN Track). Walden offers a wide variety of nursing degrees and certificates that are all accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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