For nurses interested in entering specialized advanced practice in order to focus on things like research, education, leadership, and consulting, becoming a clinical nurse leader is a great career aspiration. With master's and doctoral programs available in the specialty, and both classroom and online learning options, earning a degree as a clinical nurse specialist is well within reach.

Choosing a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Program

Choosing the right clinical nurse specialist program can be boiled down to a few key items:

Accreditation

One surefire way to check a program's reputation is to see what kind of accreditation it holds. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two main accrediting bodies that sign off on quality clinical nurse specialist programs. Some schools and programs also hold local or regional accreditations as well.

Program Cost

Clinical nurse specialist program tuition can vary widely, but many charge between $500 and $1,000 per credit hour. Doctoral programs may be on the higher end of the cost spectrum (but not always). Keep in mind that these tuition figures generally do not include extra mandatory fees, books, course materials, or other related expenses.

Program Length

MSN-level clinical nurse specialist programs usually require around 40 credits and can take roughly 2-3 years to complete, depending on full-time or part-time study. DNP-level programs usually take around 3-4 years to complete, and require approximately 75 credit hours.

Internship/Externship Opportunities

Internships, externships, and other residencies are typically required and can usually be arranged in conjunction with the school. Checking to see what arrangements a prospective school has for hands-on clinical requirements is a wise idea.

Online/Campus Options

With the recent upswing in distance-based learning, many schools now offer both online and campus-based options. Some also offer "hybrid" options where students take the bulk of classes online but may be required to make a few trips to campus.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Degree Levels Offered

Nursing students who wish to enter a clinical nurse specialist program have two options to choose from: the master's (MSN) route, or the doctoral (DNP) route. Both are excellent ways to enter the specialty, and students should consider which pathway is right for them before they start the application process.

MSN Programs

Students opting for an MSN as a Clinical Nurse Specialist can expect to take courses which correspond to their specialty of choice. Adult gerontology, pediatrics, and mental health are just a few of the specialization areas that clinical nurse specialists can focus on. These programs also require core MSN coursework, to include things like clinical decision-making, healthcare policy, scientific writing, and more. California State University-Dominguez Hills, for example, offers an MSN with a Clinical Nurse Specialist concentration.

DNP Programs

Doctoral clinical nurse specialist programs go above and beyond the master's level to prepare students to manage complex health conditions and work as expert clinicians in a variety of settings. They too can specialize in numerous areas of medicine. For example, the University of Minnesota offers an Adult/Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist DNP which allows students to focus on subspecialty areas such as cardiology, critical care, and palliative care.

Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

As nurses seek to further their education, some find that work and family obligations make obtaining a post-graduate degree seem daunting. Colleges and universities are responding by offering more and more programs via distance learning. These online clinical nurse specialist programs offer the same stellar education as classroom programs do, but offer a higher amount of flexibility. Students should, however, pay particular attention to their state's guidelines on distance education, as there can be some rules and regulations that may impact them. Admissions representatives for online clinical nurse specialist programs can assist with this.

Advantages of an Online Program

Simply put, online clinical nurse specialist programs allow the convenience of letting students take courses from home and usually on their own time schedule. This allows busy RNs the opportunity to earn a degree at their own pace. Online students also don't have to factor in commuting costs such as gas and parking, which can be especially attractive to those in more rural areas who wouldn't otherwise have access to a program in their local vicinity.

Program Accreditation

A good online program should come with accreditations, typically awarded by CCNE or ACEN. A little research on the online school and program can give students peace of mind if they have never participated in distance learning.

Costs and Length

Online clinical nurse specialist programs typically require the same amount of credits as campus-based programs (around 35 credits for an MSN program, and 70 for a DNP). Most online programs allow for full-time or part-time study, giving students some flexibility on how quickly they finish. Tuition is also in the $500 per credit (and up) price range, and students can usually shop around for online tuition that fits within their budget.

What Are the Admissions and Certification Requirements?

Admissions requirements for most clinical nurse specialist programs include:

  • BSN or higher from an accredited school
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Valid, unencumbered RN license
  • Application essays
  • Current CV or resume
  • Professional references
  • Some specialized professional nursing experience may be required depending on specialty

Certification as a clinical nurse specialist is awarded via examination by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the AACN Certification Corporation and is broken out into the following specialties:

  • Adult Gerontology CNS
  • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS
  • Child/Adolescent Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS
  • Pediatric CNS
  • Neonatal CNS

Eligibility requirements for the exam include:

  • Current, active RN license
  • MSN or DNP in a clinical nurse specialist program

List of Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

There are a wide variety of both master's and doctoral level clinical nurse specialist available across the country, see the list below.

Select Your State:

Alabama

SchoolContact Information
Troy University
MSN Programs
Troy University School of Nursing, Pell Ave
Troy, AL 36081
(334) 834-2320
University of South Alabama
5721 USA Dr N
Mobile, AL 36688
(251) 445-9400

Arizona

SchoolContact Information
Arizona State University
550 N 3rd St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 496-2644

Arkansas

SchoolContact Information
Arkansas State University
P.O. Box 910
State University, AR 72467
(870) 972-3074

California

SchoolContact Information
Azusa Pacific University
MSN Programs
901 E. Alosta Ave., PO Box 7000
Azusa, CA 91702
(626) 969-3434
California Baptist University
8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504
(877) 228-3615
California State University Dominguez Hills
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1000 E. Victoria Street
Carson, CA 90747
(310) 243-3696
California State University San Marcos
333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd
San Marcos, CA 92096
(760) 750-4000
Fresno State University
MSN Programs
2345 E. San Ramon
Fresno, CA 93740
(559) 278-2041
Loma Linda University
11262 Campus St.
Loma Linda, CA 92350
(909) 558-4923
Mount Saint Mary's University- Los Angeles
10 Chester Place
Los Angeles, CA 90007
(213) 477-2500
UCLA
Box 951702
Los Angeles, CA 90095
(310) 825-3109
Western University
309 E. Second St.
Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 623-6116

Florida

SchoolContact Information
University of North Florida
1 UNF Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32224
(904) 620-1000

Georgia

SchoolContact Information
Georgia Southern University
1332 Southern Drive
Statesboro, GA 30458
(912) 478-4636
Georgia State University
MSN Programs
33 Gilmer St SE
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 413-2000

Illinois

SchoolContact Information
Lewis University
One University Parkway
Romeoville, IL 60446
(815) 838-0500
Northern Illinois University
MSN Programs
1425 W. Lincoln Hwy.
DeKalb, IL 60115
(815) 753-1000
Rush University
600 S. Paulina St
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 942-7100

Indiana

SchoolContact Information
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
600 Barnhill Drive, NU 122
Indianapolis, IN 46202
(317) 274-2806
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712
(812) 464-8600

Louisiana

SchoolContact Information
Louisiana State Univeristy New Orleans
1900 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 568-4200

Maryland

SchoolContact Information
Johns Hopkins University
525 N. Wolfe Street
Baltomire, MD 21205
(410) 955-4766

Massachusetts

SchoolContact Information
Regis University
235 Wellesley Street
Weston, MA 02493
(781) 768-7000
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 William T. Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 287-5000

Michigan

SchoolContact Information
Eastern Michigan University
900 Oakwood St
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
(734) 487-1849
Michigan State University
220 Trowbridge Rd
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 355-1855
University of Michigan
426 N. Ingalls St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
(734) 763-5985

Minnesota

SchoolContact Information
University of Minnesota
308 Harvard Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
(612) 624-9600
Wiona State University Rochester
859 30th Ave SE
Rochester, MN 55904
(507) 285-7100

Missouri

SchoolContact Information
Mizzou Online- University of Missouri
136 Clark Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-2491
University of Missouri Health
S235 School of Nursing
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-0277
University Of Missouri Kansas City
5100 Rockhill Rd
Kansas City, MO 64110
(816) 235-1000

Nebraska

SchoolContact Information
University of Nebraska Medical Center
42nd and Emile
Omaha, NE 68198
(402) 559-4000

New York

SchoolContact Information
Hunter College
695 Park Ave
NY, NY 10065
(212) 772-4000
St. John Fisher College
3690 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14618
(585) 385-8000
St. Joseph's College New York
245 Clinton Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205
(718) 940-5300

North Carolina

SchoolContact Information
East Carolina University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
East Fifth Street
Greenville, NC 27858
(252) 328-6131

Ohio

SchoolContact Information
Capital University
Graduate Certificate Programs
1 College Ave
Columbus, OH 43209
(614) 236-6011
Kent State University
1375 University Esplanade
Kent, OH 44242
(330) 672-7930
The Ohio State University
1585 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-4041
The University of Akron
302 E Buchtel Ave
Akron, OH 44325
(330) 972-7111
Ursuline College
2550 Lander Rd
Pepper Pike, OH 44124
(440) 449-4200
Wright State University
Graduate Certificate Programs
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton, OH 45431
(937) 775-3333

Oklahoma

SchoolContact Information
The University of Oklahoma
MSN Programs
1100 N Stonewall Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73117
(405) 325-0311

Pennsylvania

SchoolContact Information
La Salle University
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19141
(215) 951-1000
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
418 Curie Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 898-8281
University of Pittsburgh
DNP Programs
3500 Victoria Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
(412) 624-4586
University of Scranton
235 Jefferson Ave
Scranton, PA 18510
(570) 941-7673
York College of Pennsylvania
443 Country Club Rd
York, PA 17403
(717) 846-7788

Rhode Island

SchoolContact Information
Rhode Island College
600 Mount Pleasant Avenue
Providence, RI 02908
(401) 456-8000
University of Rhode Island
45 Upper College Rd
Kingston, RI 02881
(401) 874-1000

Tennessee

SchoolContact Information
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
615 McCallie Ave
Chattanooga, TN 37403
(423) 425-4416

Texas

SchoolContact Information
Texas Christian University
2800 S University Dr
Fort Worth, TX 76129
(817) 257-7000
Texas Woman's University
304 Administration Dr.
Denton, TX 76204
(940) 898-2000

Virginia

SchoolContact Information
Old Dominion University
5115 Hampton Blvd
Norfolk, VA 23529
(757) 683-3000
University of Virginia
225 Jeanette Lancaster Way
Charlottesville, VA 22903-3388
(434) 924-0141

Washington

SchoolContact Information
University of Washington
1410 NE Campus Parkway
Seattle, WA 98195
(206) 543-2100

Wisconsin

SchoolContact Information
Alverno College
MSN Programs
3400 S 43rd St
Milwaukee, WI 53234
(414) 382-6000
Marquette University
1250 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(800) 222-6544
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Graduate Certificate Programs
702 West Johnson Street. Suite 1101
Madison, WI 53715
(608) 263-2400
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
2442 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-1122