What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?
A clinical nurse specialist is a licensed registered nurse who is prepared in a master’s program to practice in an advanced nursing role in a variety of primary, acute, or critical care settings. Clinical nurse specialists are clinical experts in "theory-based and/or research-based nursing practice within a specialty area".
What specialties are available for Clinical Nurse Specialist students in the School of Nursing?
The University of Alabama School of Nursing currently offers clinical specialization in adult health nursing. Within the broad area of adult health, students may choose to specialize in cardiology, gerontology, neuroscience, oncology, or other specialties of the student’s choice.
What does a Clinical Nurse Specialist do?
Clinical nurse specialists integrate knowledge of disease and medical therapy in a holistic assessment of adults while focusing on the differential diagnosis of illness or wellness experiences that have non-disease-based etiologies and require nursing interventions to prevent, maintain, or alleviate. They design, implement, and evaluate population-based programs of care to enhance patient outcomes cost effectively. In addition, clinical specialists serve as leaders/consultants/mentors/change agents in advancing the practice of nursing to achieve quality, cost-effective patient outcomes within their specialty population and across populations when appropriate. They also lead multidisciplinary teams in designing and implementing alternative solutions that address system problems and/or patient care issues occurring across the full continuum of care.
How does a Clinical Nurse Specialist differ from an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?
Although there are many similarities between the clinical nurse specialist and the acute care nurse practitioner roles, there are some differences, as well. Acute Care Nurse Practitioners spend most of their time in direct patient care activities to manage health problems that require secondary or tertiary interventions by health care providers. Often those interventions are of a nature that require hospitalization or care by specialists in a particular field. Clinical nurse specialists spend the majority of their time in indirect patient care activities to promote quality, cost effective patient outcomes. Their sphere of influence includes the patient, nursing personnel, and the organization. In many situations, clinical specialists and acute care nurse practitioners work collaboratively to achieve optimal patient outcomes.
Who employs Clinical Nurse Specialists?
There are a variety of employment opportunities available to clinical nurse specialists. They may be employed by hospitals to work in general specialty units, step-down units, intensive care units, or staff-development departments. They also may be employed by individual physicians or physician specialty groups to help manage the care of patients. Clinical specialists may coordinate research projects for medical or nursing research teams. Graduates of clinical specialist programs may also work as faculty or teaching staff in schools of nursing. Clinical nurse specialists may have various titles in their employment setting including care coordinator, case manager, clinical nurse specialist, research coordinator, disease state manager, and instructor.
What are the classroom content and clinical requirements for the Clinical Nurse Specialist student?
The didactic graduate courses provide students with a strong advanced generalist base for managing the care of adults with common health problems and with complex problems that may require intensive collaborative management. Selected specialty courses are available as elective support courses. The practicum and residency courses provide students clinical experiences appropriate to the spheres of influence for the clinical nurse specialist role, that is patients or clients, nursing personnel, and organizations or networks. Students will have the opportunity to explore and implement theory or research-based nursing strategies focusing on both disease-based and non-disease-based etiologies of illness. Students complete a minimum of 570 precepted clinical practice hours.
Who will serve as my preceptor in the clinical courses?
The preceptor should be an advanced practice nurse in your area of specialization. It should be someone who is willing to let you participate in the management of patients in his/her setting and in clinical projects in which he/she may be involved. This may be someone you know or with whom you have worked in the past, and it can be someone from your local area if you live outside the Birmingham metropolitan area. If you do not know anyone who could serve as your preceptor, your advisor can help you identify an appropriate preceptor. A preceptorship orientation session will be held during the spring term before you begin the clinical courses to help you with the process of securing a preceptor.
How long is the program of study?
The CNS program of study requires a minimum of 18 months (5 semesters) of full-time study beginning in the spring term. However, many students choose to complete the program in 24 to 36 months (6-7 semesters). The faculty will assist you in developing a program plan best suited to your needs.
Will I be eligible to take a certification exam if I complete this program?
Once you complete the program, you will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for clinical nurse specialists in Medical Surgical Nursing offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. You also may be eligible to sit for Clinical Specialist certification examinations offered by specialty organizations such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
How do I become eligible to practice as a CNS in my state of residence?
Individual states have different requirements regarding licensure for advanced practice nurses. You will need to contact your state’s board of nursing to learn its particular requirements. The faculty will assist you with that process when you are close to your graduation date.
What kind of nursing experience do I need prior to entering the program?
There are no requirements for clinical experience prior to admission to the MSN program. However, students should have a minimum of one year of professional nursing experience on a medical or surgical nursing unit area prior to enrolling in the advanced nursing and clinical specialist practicum courses. Graduates of this program and employers of our graduates comment about the value of this prior clinical experience.
What are the admission criteria?
What is a typical program of study like?
Following is a sample plan for a student entering in fall term. Other plans are available depending on individual needs.
Fall – Year 1
• NUR 600 Research and Statistics for Advanced Practice - 4
• NUR 612 Advanced Pathophysiology - 3
• NUR 614 Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning for Advanced Nursing Practice - 4
Spring – Year I
• NUR 613 Pharmacology and Therapeutics - 3
• NCA 621 Advanced Adult Acute Care Nursing I - 4
• NCS 616 Foundations of Clinical Nurse Specialist Practice - 1
• NCS 685 Practicum I: Clinical Specialization in Adult - 2
Summer – Year 1
• NCA 622 Advanced Adult Acute Care Nursing II - 3
• NCS 686 Practicum II: Clinical Specialization in Adult - 2
• NCS 617 Phenomena of Concern to Advanced Practice Nurses-1
• NUR 601 Role Development for Advanced Nursing Practice - 3
Fall – Year 2
• NUR 602 Issues Affecting Advanced Nursing Practice - 3
• NCA 623 Advanced Adult Acute Care Nursing III - 3
• NCS 687 Practicum III: Clinical Specialization in Adult Nursing - 2
Spring – Year 2
• NCS 692 Residency: Clinical Specialization in Adult Health Nursing - 4
Total Credits: 42
Ann Williams, PhD, RN
Phone: (205) 934-6583