What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice nurse (APN) who hold a master’s degree in a specialized nursing area. Clinical nurse specialist expertise is defined by target population, such as women, geriatrics and pediatrics, and target settings, such as critical care and emergency room. The duties of a clinical nurse specialist vastly vary according to their client population and work setting.

Clinical Nurse Specialist – Pediatrics

A clinical nurse specialist who works in a pediatric unit will be responsible for the diagnosis, treatment and management of illnesses, diseases, health problems and physical conditions. They also engage in healthy living, disease prevention and risk awareness programs and promotions with individuals and groups. These clinical nurse specialists are accountable for continuous improvement of nursing care, patient outcomes and evidence-based interventions. They integrate research, education, leadership and consultation into their clinical roles, functions and relationships. They collaborate with nursing colleagues and other health care professionals to create positive outcomes and healthy environments. These clinical nurse specialists influence patient care through focusing on organization, nursing data and positive patient/client relationships. They may be active members of shared leadership groups who serve as expert consultants to physicians and health care providers.

Clinical Nurse Specialist – Supervisor

A clinical nurse specialist who works as a supervisor will direct clinical practices, promote patient well-being and focus on quality improvements. They are expected to maintain a holistic perspective the advanced management of illness and disease states. They manage work environments through mentoring, teaching and empowering subordinate nurses to use compassionate care and evidence-based practices to alleviate patient stress, pain and illnesses. They facilitate ethical decision-making, use diversity best practices and guide the care of patients and families. These clinical nurse specialists advise and coach nursing personnel using clinical expertise models that integrate new evidence into practice. They consult with nurses to review alternative approaches to constructive problem-solving for patients and populations. They identify and take action on ethical decision-making, such as allocating resources, directing access to care and deciding moral dilemmas.

Clinical Nurse Specialist – Quality Improvement

Clinical nurse specialists who specialize in quality, process or system improvement will implement and evaluate planned changes. They conduct systematic inquiries, interpret care data, evaluate hands-on practices and participate in research. They provide clinical leadership, professional support and change management advocacy in the patient care delivery system. They partner with clinical leaders and administrators to drive better patient outcomes and provider performances. They review and analyze core measure outcomes to follow up on successes or improvements needed with clinical staff. They ensure that health care best practices are being adopted, enforced and maintained. They usually foster an interdisciplinary approach to quality improvement systems, practices and research. They lead process improvement teams to optimize outcomes, promote patient safety and clinical excellence. They lead the design, execution and evaluation of process improvement initiatives and programs.

A clinical nurse specialist may also work with patients in a standard department like neurology or urology to provide quality-focused outcomes. Some clinical nurse specialists work as nursing teachers and administrators in hospitals. All clinical nurse specialists will need a master’s degree in nursing and state licensure to practice as registered nurses (RNs).

Related Resource: Nursing Jobs in Hospice Care

Anyone who wants to learn more about becoming a clinical nurse specialist can explore the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists’ (NACNS) website to find out about news, events, resources, publications and membership.