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Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

A clinical nurse specialist is a licensed registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing. They may  also be known as an advanced practice registered nurse.

The primary task of a clinical nurse specialist is to improve the quality of healthcare in areas such as organizations, families and patients, and the healthcare system.

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Clinical nurse specialists usually specialize in a specific area of nursing practice. These areas may include pediatrics, critical care, wounds, rehabilitation, emergency room, oncology, geriatrics and diabetes.

Admission requirements for clinical nurse specialist master’s program

Admission requirements for this program may vary from university to university but general prerequisites include the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • An acceptable GPA; a GPA of 3.0 is preferable
  • Some universities may invite applicants for an interview
  • Personal essays
  • Resume
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts from all previous academic institutes attended
  • Proof of proficiency in English language in some cases, such as in the case of international students

Although not always the case, but students with previous coursework or a bachelor’s degree in nursing science may be given preference by the university or college during the admission process.

Curriculum and coursework

Students typically complete this degree in two years. This program may be offered online, on-campus or as a hybrid degree program, depending upon an applicant’s choice.

The curriculum is set in a way that it provides in-depth knowledge to the students on a specific concentration of nursing science and introduces them to various theories of nursing practice and health issues in the United States.

Coursework may vary from university to university but generally includes the following core courses:

  • Applications of research to practice
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Advanced health measurement and assessment
  • Disease prevention and health promotion
  • Statistical literacy
  • Healthcare for advanced practice learning
Learning outcomes

The Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs serves the dual purpose of preparing you for real-world situations, as well as providing and teaching you tools and techniques to efficiently manage critical situations.

The program:

  • Provides you with knowledge and tools to provide better healthcare to individuals
  • Introduces you to interdisciplinary healthcare models
  • Teaches you how to incorporate the latest and innovative research into your clinical practice and improve your techniques

Certifications for clinical nurse specialists

Even though acquiring  certification is not mandatory, it can enhance your professional ability, competency and knowledge. Several bodies provide certifications for clinical nurse specialists such as the American Nurses Credentialing Centre provides several certifications for clinical nurse specialists (CNS) in various concentrations including:

  • Adult health CNS
  • Community health CNS
  • Child psychiatric-Mental health CNS
  • Pediatric CNS
  • Adult-gerontology CNS
  • Gerontological CNS

A certification may also assist in career advancement and better job prospects.

Graduate certificate for a clinical nurse specialist

This graduate certificate sheds light on various healthcare theories, as well as several clinical techniques. It is for students who have already completed a master’s program and prepares them to sit for the American Nurses Credentialing Centre’s nurse specialist certification exam.  

The certificate may be offered online for part-time students, as well as on-campus for full-time students, and ensures placement for students in collaborative clinics, to provide clinical experience.

Admission requirements for a clinical nurse specialist certificate

Admission requirements may vary from institute to institute, but common prerequisites include the following:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited university or college
  • The applicant must have acquired a nursing license or must be a registered nurse
  • An acceptable GPA; a GPA of 3.0 is preferable
  • Essays regarding career objectives
  • An interview with a faculty member
  • Two or more letters of recommendation. Recommendation letters may be written by either the employer or previous academic teachers
  • Proof of proficiency in the English language in some cases, such as in the case of international students
  • Official transcripts from all previous academic institutes attended

Although not necessary, some universities or colleges may give preference to applicants with previous professional clinical experience during the admission process.

Curriculum and coursework

Students have to successfully complete several courses in order to acquire this certificate. Coursework may vary from university to university but normally includes the following core courses:

  • Advanced practice nursing and Pathophysiology
  • Advanced practice nursing and applied pharmacology
  • Caring techniques for aging people
  • Physical assessment
  • Clinical decision making for advanced practice nursing

Most colleges and universities include an internship in their curriculum to further the students’ professional experience and give them a better perspective on how to apply clinical nursing theories in real-world scenarios.

Skills and qualities necessary for a clinical nurse specialist

Clinical nurse specialist programs are designed to enhance and build certain abilities in the students, so that they may become efficient and effective nurse specialists. These skills and abilities may include the following:

  • Coordinating
  • Service orientation
  • Critical thinking
  • Critical decision making and judgment
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Understanding sensitivity of the problem at hand
  • Comprehension and reading
Career statistics and job prospects

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master’s degree is the entry-level education required for a nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or a nurse practitioner also known as advanced practice registered nurses.

The BLS further reports that the annual median salary of nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners was $96,460 in 2012. Their job numbers are predicted to increase at the rate of 31 percent, which is faster than the average for all other occupations from 2012 to 2022.


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Q:What sort of a job can you get with psychiatric clinical nurse specialist programs?

A:With a psychiatric clinical nurse program, you can work in hospitals, clinics, medical offices and other health care facilities. You will most likely be a specialist in a particular area such as cardiovascular health, gerontology or public health policy. You job would be to provide direct patient care and consultation and you would also be involved in education, research and facility administration.

Q:What are some of the pediatric clinical nurse specialist programs?

A:To become a clinical nurse specialist, you can go for a masters degree in nursing, with a specialization in pediatric clinical nursing. You would be responsible for providing patient assessment and advanced care, as well as ensuring the implementation of advanced health care delivery systems. You can complete the masters program full-time or part-time.

Q:What courses are taught in neonatal clinical nurse specialist programs?

A:As part of a neonatal clinical nurse specialist program, you would be taught courses divided into core courses, theory courses and clinical courses. You will be studying things such as advanced pharmacology and therapeutics for nursing practice, research methods and design, high-risk neonate theory, systems thinking in patient safety, advanced practice concepts for childbearing and so on.

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