MSN: Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Degree Programs & Career

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice nurse who holds a master’s degree or doctorate in nursing. A CNS is an expert in a specialized area of nursing, providing direct patient care and expert consultations within his/her specialty. A few examples of areas within which clinical nurses may specialize include adult health, diabetes, geriatrics, home health, pediatrics, psychiatric and mental health, and public health. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) now offers a CNS-BC credential to individuals who successfully complete exams in their areas of specialization. In addition to clinical nurse specialists, the other types of advanced practice nurses are nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.

How to Become a CNS

To become a clinical nurse specialist, students typically complete the following steps:

  1. Complete an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program
  2. Earn a Registered Nurse Certification
  3. Meet the professional experience conditions
  4. Choose an area of specialization such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or women’s health
  5. Enroll and complete a MSN degree with a concentration in clinical care
  6. Obtain CNS certification and proper licensure (requirements vary by state)

CNS Salary and Career Information

The expected salary, career growth, and work environment for a CNS might include:

  • Median Expected Salary: $87,867, according to’s most recent report
  • Job Prospects: Very good to excellent
  • Job Setting: Private practices, nursing homes, hospitals, public health organizations, boards of health and education, educational institutions, home health care agencies, insurance companies

CNS Qualifications

To become a CNS, students are typically required to meet the following job qualifications:

  • CNS Advanced Practice Certification
  • Computer skills using various applications such as word processing, presentation, and online database systems
  • Certification in an area of clinical specialty including: neurology, oncology, rehabilitation, trauma nursing, adolescent health, neonatal, pediatric oncology, pediatric pulmonary, school health nursing, anesthesiology, community health, home health care, hospice nursing, occupational health, women’s health

CNS Job Description

A CNS is typically responsible for the following job duties:

  • Examine patients to evaluate their medical and physical conditions and develop specific care plans based on health assessment
  • Work closely with doctors and other medical professionals to aid in patient diagnosis
  • Review patient files to ensure proper data reporting
  • Develop a plan of care that address patients’ unique conditions and prescribe proper medication (prescriptive authority varies by state)
  • Provide educational and therapeutic support to patients on how best to manage symptoms
  • Collaborate with staff on research and professional practice projects

MSN Degrees for Aspiring Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)

Top Masters in Nursing Schools

A master’s degree in nursing can be the first step to becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or clinical nurse leader (CNL). Several accredited online MSN programs are listed below. Fill out any school’s form to quickly receive additional information and application materials.

RN to MS in Nursing

Kaplan University – Kaplan University offers a number of top online RN to Masters In Nursing (MSN) degrees for licensed registered nurses seeking career advancement. Each program is fully online and and allows students to focus their curriculum on their particular career interest. In addition to the general program, specializations are also offered in informatics and health education.

MSN: Mgmt & Org Leadership MSN: Infection Prevention MSN: Case Management MSN: Informatics

American Sentinel University – American Sentinel University offers a wide variety of accredited online masters in nursing degrees, each with a specific focus designed to teach MSN students the exact skills they need for their particular career focus. By specializing in Management and Organizational Leadership, Infection Prevention, Case Management, or Nurse Informatics through online courses as opposed to campus programs, students can complete assignments at a time and place that is convenient.


Capella University – This masters in nursing program is designed specifically for nurses who wish to enter the teaching profession as nurse educators. With practical applications and engaging assignments, student can accomplish the assets required to be successful in leadership and educational positions with in the nursing industry. The Nurse Educator degree curriculum is centered around the industry’s best practices and standards and is constantly updated to reflect the latest developments.

MSN: Clinical Leader MSN: Nursing Education MSN: Patient Services Admin RN to MSN: Clinical Leader RN to MSN: Nursing Edu. RN to MSN: Patient Services

Sacred Heart University – Sacred Heart University offers accredited BSN to MSN and RN to MSN programs that prepare students for leadership or specialized positions, including clinical nurse leadership (RN to MSN option), nursing education (RN to MSN option), and patient care services administration (RN to MSN option).

MS in Family Nursing

Georgetown University – Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies has been educating nurses and helping improve health care since 1903. Now – through the launch of an innovative online program – Georgetown is extending its master’s program to nurses around the country. Taught by highly respected faculty, the dynamic online program is designed to help the next generation of nursing leaders. Georgetown has two Masters in Nursing degrees online available: Family Nurse Practitioner and Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner.

MSN: Nurse Midwifery MSN: Women’s Health MSN: Clinical Nurse MSN: Nurse Admin

University of Cincinnati – - University of Cincinnati has both online and onsite courses available for students interested in advancing their careers in Nursing. The accredited options empower the student to choose a course type that works best for them. UC has a wide range of degrees available for students who are interested in Nurse Midwifery, Women’s Health Practitioner, Clinical Nursing, and Nurse Administration.

Masters in Nursing Informatics

Grand Canyon University – Grand Canyon University’s online masters in nursing programs focus on becoming a leader and an educator respectively. These accredited degrees are offered via a fully online curriculum. The Masters in Nursing Leadership prepares RNs for roles as leaders in a variety healthcare settings.

MSN: Adult Health MSN: Nurse Educator MSN: Family Nursing MSN: Nurse Admin

South University – The Masters in Nursing programs from South University are designed for students who want to take leadership positions in the health community, and involves leadership training and learning the skills needed to manage other nurses. South University provides an affordable option through online courses which can cut down on many of the cost associated with on-ground programs. South offers a Masters of Science in Nurse Education.

Click Here to see more schools offering Masters in Nursing degrees

Find Masters in Nursing Degrees