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What does a Clinical Nurse Specialist do?

You may have heard of LPN (licensed practical nurse) and RN (registered nurse), but what about clinical nurse specialists? What do they do?

You might think of nursing as moving up a ladder of training, expertise, and specialization. That ladder goes like this:
  • LPN
  • RN
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
To become a LPN, you would need about a year of training. You could start studying right out of high school, and take a program at a vocational or technical college. To become a RN, you would have to complete several prerequisites (chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, and likely some math, psychology, and communications classes). A clinical nurse specialist would have even more education: you would need to go on to a master's or doctoral degree in nursing.

Your responsibilities and tasks get more advanced as you move up this ladder of patient care. As a LPN, you might monitor patients, take vital signs and specimens, and give injections. As a RN, you do more: give and guide treatments, observe patients and help determine a course of treatment, and perhaps even specialize in a specific area, such as cardiac care or the ER.

As a clinical nurse specialist, your duties might further include supervising nurses, designing entire programs that would improve patient care across the board, and cooperating with a number of doctors and treatment specialists. You will most likely specialize yourself, focusing on a specific group (such as the elderly), specialty (such as oncology), or type of treatment (such as rehabilitation vs. psychiatric care).

Becoming a clinical nurse specialist

While it is a fine professional goal, relatively few people set out to become clinical nurse specialists. Instead, you are more likely to become a RN, getting experience in the field and a clearer sense of what you want to do and what the field needs most. Most nurses stop at this level, however. There are over 2.5 million registered nurses in America, but only about 75,000 of them have gone on to become clinical nurse specialists. Most of these (over 70%) work in a hospital.

What's special about a clinical nurse specialist?

Put all that together, and you would have a very particular profession. RNs make good money and clinical nurse specialists have the potential to earn more, but you might need five years nursing experience and a master's degree.

What is more likely to draw you to this rewarding profession is a desire to make a difference, and specifically to change the health care system. In this career, you would are positioned between the patient and the larger organization, helping them communicate and reach the healthiest relationship possible.

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