The clinical nurse specialist is one of the more highly degreed individuals in the nursing profession, having put in 8 to 10 years of study in order to earn a master or doctorate degree. This type of nurse combines both patient care tasks and administrative duties designed to improve both the nursing profession and the delivery of healthcare services. As such the daily duties of a clinical nurse specialist can vary widely in accordance with the individual's area of specialty and the institution in which he or she works.
Clinical nurse specialists are registered nurses first, being required to earn either a two or four-year degree and pass the licensing exam before being allowed to enter a master program. What makes the clinical nurse specialist career so unique is the number of specialties involved. The five most commonly recognized categories of specialty include:
- a specific demographic group
- a medical specialty such as cardiology or oncology; or a specific disease
- a specific type of care such as rehabilitative therapy
- a broad scope of health problems such as chronic pain or wound treatment
- a work environment such as ICU or the emergency department
Duties of the Clinical Nurse Specialist
It goes without saying that all clinical nurse specialists are capable of performing routine nursing tasks like measuring vital signs, doing patient interviews, and dispensing pharmaceuticals. Indeed, many clinical nurse specialists are involved in the routine care of patients to the degree their specialty requires it. Some are as involved as regular RNs or LPNs, while others are only involved in patient care in a supervisory role. Because these individuals have taken the time to receive such an extensive education they are often put to work doing other things outside of routine nursing tasks.
One of the big draws of this field of nursing is the ability to affect the future of the entire nursing profession. The clinical nurse specialist often contributes by helping to establish and develop methods by which nursing, in general, can be improved. These methods might have to do with patient care, distribution of drugs and supplies, interaction between shift nurses, and so on. Along the same lines the clinical nurse specialist is often engaged in trying to improve healthcare delivery systems as well. This position is almost a hybrid position combining routine nursing care with in-house administration.
Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist
In order to be licensed as a clinical nurse specialist one must first complete a program and be licensed as a registered nurse. From there the individual continues his or her education through the completion of a master or doctorate program. Part of the advanced education includes a clinical nurse specialist program which prepares the individual for the chosen specialty he or she is entering. There are no specific certifications given for some of the specialties; in such cases proof of education is sufficient. Also keep in mind that some states require you pass an additional licensing exam before you can begin working.
Job Outlook and Salary
Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that the field of the clinical nurse specialist continues to do well in terms of job growth and career potential. The field is right in line with most of the other medical professions which are seeing double-digit growth. Experts believe that work should remain steadily available at least through the next 5 to 6 years and possibly longer. As of 2008 there were approximately 70,000 clinical nurse specialists throughout the United States and several thousand open positions.
As for compensation, an individual can expect a starting salary in the neighborhood of $50,000 annually. Compensation increases with years of service and specialty demand. In some cases, annual salary could well exceed $100,000 in a specialty that is in exceptionally high demand.
A career as a clinical nurse specialist is one that offers good salary and benefits, good working conditions, and the promise of being able to help those in need. Individuals interested in pursuing a career in nursing, but don't yet know what specialty might interest them, should consider this as a career choice.