Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). CNSs hold graduate nursing degrees and are experts in a particular specialty, such as population (e.g. pediatrics), type of problem (e.g. wound care), setting (e.g. Intensive Care Unit), type of care (e.g. rehabilitation), or disease (e.g. diabetes). They can work in any number of settings, such as a hospital, private practice, or a clinic.

Regardless of specialty or setting, CNSs provide leadership in clinical expertise, nursing practice, and systems innovation.

CNSs diagnose, develop plans of care for, treat, and provide ongoing management of complex patients. In many states, the CNS can prescribe medications, and durable medical equipment and therapies. They also provide expertise and support to bedside nurses, help drive practice changes throughout the organization, and ensure the use of best practices and evidence-based care to achieve the best possible patient outcomes.

CNSs have the skills and expertise to identify gaps in health care delivery. They have the expertise to help design, implement, assess and evaluate health care interventions to improve health care delivery and outcomes.

How Does The CNS Enhance The Clinical Environment?

  • Advocates for cost-effective and quality patient outcomes

  • Promotes patient safety

  • Serves as a patient advocate

  • Facilitates use of evidence-based practice

  • Leads in attaining



  • Assists with staff retention through mentoring

  • Raises the standard of patient care

  • Reduces costs through decrease in re-admissions

  • Assures compliance with state and federal healthcare guidelines

The CNS has a unique APRN role to integrate care across the continuum and through three spheres of influence: patient, nurse, system. The three spheres are overlapping and interrelated but each sphere possesses a distinctive focus. In each of the spheres of influence, the primary goal of the CNS is continuous improvement of patient outcomes and nursing care.

Key elements of CNS practice are to create environments through mentoring and system changes that empower nurses to develop caring, evidence-based practices to alleviate patient distress, facilitate ethical decision-making, and respond to diversity. The CNS is responsible and accountable for diagnosis and treatment of health/illness states, disease management, health promotion, and prevention of illness and risk behaviors among individuals, families, groups, and communities.