Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are advanced-practice nurses who hold either a master's degree or doctoral degree in nursing. They specialize in a specific population such as:

  • Adult/Gerontological health
  • Acute care
  • Pediatrics
  • Mental health
  • Women's health
  • Community/Public Health

During the CNS program in school, the student chooses which CNS track they are interested in. After graduation, they can take the certification exam in their specialty through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Changing from one of the main specialty areas listed above would be difficult, as eligibility criteria for certification include a minimum number of supervised clinical hours (i.e., in school) within that specialty. For example, a CNS who graduated and obtained certification in Adult/Gerontology would have a challenging time becoming certified in Pediatrics later on, as one of the requirements for certification includes a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised hours in the pediatric population.

However, clinical nurse specialists can change subspecialties with relative ease. For example, CNSs who have worked for extended periods of time in adult health may work in areas such as cardiology, nephrology, or neurology. Acute care CNSs can work in the emergency department, intensive care, or other specialty units in the hospital setting (i.e., telemetry, neurology, etc.).

It's important for clinical nurse specialists to determine eligibility requirements based on their employer. Job postings should outline the specific requirements for the position.