Clinical nurse specialists are Registered Nurses who have earned a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Advanced Practice Nursing and have been certified within a specific domain of patients or specialization of nursing.
These Clinical Nurse Specialists are advanced Nurses who spend hours of their day working with other healthcare professionals by providing their expertise on far more advanced concepts than traditional nursing training offers.
Clinical Nurse Specialists typically focus on several different potential areas of expertise. The most common expertise areas relate to several different categories which are easily broken down in certain specializations and categories that are easy to remember.
They work with a nursing staff and provide indirect care through management and prioritization to improve the quality of care and reach the best outcomes.
Specializations fall into three primary categories:
Patient Care & Families
Health Care Administration
Within these three domains, clinical nurse specialists can further focus on any of the following:
Particular populations, such as women’s health, pediatrics or geriatrics
Specific settings, such as emergency room, adult critical care or neonatal critical care
Medical subspecialties focusing on one diseases, such as diabetes or oncology
Specific types of care, such as geriatrics or rehabilitation
Particular types of health problem, such as pain management, wound care or stress
Additionally, some clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) work at the organizational level to make broad improvements to the system as a whole.
Clinical Nurse Specialists still work directly with patients in most scenarios but are also incredibly useful for providing expert-level consultations for healthcare professionals who might have some questions as it relates to nursing care or nursing responsibilities. In addition, Clinical Nurse Specialists are often referred to when it comes to helping patients resolve questions about the diagnosis and treatment of certain disabilities, illnesses, injuries, or diseases within their respective area of expertise.
Another part of a Clinical Nurse Specialist's job description is to also take an active role and participate in improving the overall health of the community that they serve. This will involve taking on responsibility for certain health initiatives that the community is attempting to push and integrate into a daily routine. One example of this community push that a Clinical Nurse Specialist could assume responsibility for is to educate their patients about the importance of eating well and exercising frequently.
Another aspect of a Clinical Nurse Specialist's job description is to also work in a variety of management positions or leadership roles. As we've mentioned earlier, this might involve acting as a consultant or providing direct guidance to subordinates under their care. As a Clinical Nurse Specialist who is working in a supervisory or leadership role, they will frequently develop or work with a team to help develop certain policies and procedures that the care team has to follow.
Another aspect of a Clinical Nurse Specialist's job is to work with research or in a research setting. Many Clinical Nurse Specialists will also choose to work in research to help advance the world of healthcare as it relates to patient care and certain care practices. This part of the job description for Clinical Nurse Specialists revolves around investigating whether or not there is a potential research topic that relates to patient care and certain behaviors or practice techniques.
Clinical Nurse Specialists will evaluate whether or not there is a potential research topic of interest to them, and then begin participating in that research with a host of other healthcare professionals. In some cases, Clinical Nurse Specialists won't actually engage in the research themselves, but they will be called upon to help translate the research findings and implement them into the daily routine of caring for patients.
Clinical Nurse Specialists will also be frequently called upon by other healthcare professionals to review different studies that have been conducted, potential research proposals, and the occasional oversight of the research to ensure it's following proper procedures and guidelines as they relate to nursing and patient care.
Another aspect of a Clinical Nurse Specialist's job is to help researchers oversee the design and theory crafting of different research proposals to make sure they can complete their research effectively.
An easy way to remember the duties and job description for Clinical Nurse Specialists is that they are the go-to nurse when nurses have questions in their clinical rotations. This is a little bit different than Nurse Managers who have to oversee all of the leadership and management activities as it relates to clinical nursing because Clinical Nurse Specialists still do their normal rotations and perform a broad range of clinical activities.
Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Managers do have a lot of the same responsibilities in terms of managing staff, education of staff, and administration of the facility.
Clinical Nurse Specialists also focus on the evaluation of whether or not they can improve and optimize patient care by improving certain systems and procedures. This includes reviewing whether or not the clinical nurse rotation should do something different, whether they should be educated more on certain practices, potential alternatives to implement, and more.
Even though Clinical Nursing Specialists focus on many of the same responsibilities that a Nursing Manager does, they largely act as a consultant for the Nurse Manager when the Nurse Manager needs some feedback or advice about how to implement something properly.
Another aspect of a Clinical Nursing Specialist's job is to develop specialized treatment options and treatment plans for their patients after they've conducted a thorough examination. Once the treatment plan or treatment options have been decided on, Clinical Nursing Specialists will then be tasked with explaining the different options and treatments to a patient and their family members to make sure everyone is on board.
This involves educating them about what kind of future their treatment outlook is going to look like, and how they can go about managing their illness, disease, conditions, or symptoms throughout their treatment plan.
Clinical Nurse Specialists are also tasked with analyzing different patient data and how it relates to certain outcomes. While they won't go as far as being a Data Analyst or Data Scientist, they do analyze different thing as it relates to obtained patient information and certain treatment plans to evaluate if there are any trends as it relates to nursing outcomes and patient care plans.
The next part of a Clinical Nurse Specialist's job description is to ensure the collaboration and teamwork amongst their respective nursing community. Because Clinical Nursing Specialists receive more education and tend to have more experience than their nursing peers, they are more qualified to identify potential nursing teamwork gaps or collaboration issues that need to be remedied.
Clinical Nursing Specialists help identify those trouble areas and correct them to ensure that patient care outcomes don't suffer as a result of poor team dynamics.
Clinical Nursing Specialists are often tasked with identifying potential ways to cut costs while still being able to ensure the proper quality of care or an improved level of care at the same time. Most of this has to do with resource management, which is another similar function to Nurse Managers as we've covered earlier.
Clinical Nurse Specialists have a variety of different responsibilities in their role, but they still mainly focus on conventional nursing responsibilities. Conventional nursing responsibilities focus on helping patients recuperate from an illness or injury, preventing a disease from spreading, and educating patients on their needs as it relates to their care.
Conventional nursing responsibilities focus on helping patients recuperate from an illness or injury, preventing a disease from spreading, and educating patients on their needs.
A clinical nurse specialist’s practice includes more in-depth responsibilities, such as:
Diagnosing and treating specific diseases
Treating injuries and/or disabilities within a chosen area of expertise
Providing direct patient care
Providing expert consultations for nursing staff
Actively participating in programs to improve health care delivery systems
One of the first responsibilities that Clinical Nurse Specialists have is to identify potential ways to make broad improvements to the nursing system as a whole. This includes identifying potential weak points or areas of opportunity that would be easy to implement that could help improve patient outcomes and reduce expenses for the organization they are working for.
The second responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to work directly with patients each day. This includes doing normal patient care routines that center around the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases, treatment of injuries, and treatment of disabilities.
In addition to the normal clinical duties that a Clinical Nurse Specialist is responsible for, they might also be responsible for assisting other healthcare professionals and nurses in a consulting role to provide some expert-level feedback or advice about how to move forward with a particular issue that they are struggling to solve.
Another core responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to participate in various activities as they relate to their local community or healthcare community.
As a healthcare professional, there are going to be certain initiatives that the healthcare community or local community will take under their wing to improve the overall health and well-being of patients within the community, part of the responsibility of Clinical Nurse Specialists is to take initiative and responsibility for these healthcare initiatives and do everything in their power to improve the adoption and outcome of these initiatives within the community.
The next core responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to provide leadership and guidance when management experience is needed in a clinical setting or advisory setting. The leadership aspect of working as a Clinical Nurse Specialist means that there are going to be certain complex questions people will have that can only be answered by educated and experienced clinical nurses.
Another aspect of the leadership that Clinical Nurse Specialists are responsible for involves overseeing and consulting on different projects or initiatives that are being undertaken in the local team, local community, healthcare facility, and more.
As a Clinical Nurse Specialist, your role as a leader in these scenarios will be to do all that you can to advance the mission by sharing your clinical nursing experience with those other healthcare professionals who might have questions or need guidance in uncertain times.
As a Clinical Nurse Specialist, you will also work with leadership and managers to develop new policies or procedures as it relates to clinical nursing techniques or practice to improve patient outcomes.
The next core responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to work in a variety of different research roles or environments. This involves working directly with other researchers to help advance the healthcare industry or find ways to advance patient care outcomes. Clinical Nurse Specialists often work hand in hand with patients and other nursing professionals.
This daily insight means that they often get a ton of ideas on how certain procedures, guidelines, or systems can be improved to improve current care methods. This means that researchers often turn to Clinical Nurse Specialists to seek feedback on potential research topics or research ideas.
This means that Clinical Nurse Specialists might sometimes work as the expert on a research topic, or they could also be in charge of evaluating whether or not certain research ideas or techniques are going to be effective based on their own clinical experience.
In the event that a research topic is of potential interest to a Clinical Nurse Specialist, they might even begin participating in the research or assisting with the research method. Clinical Nurse Specialists will not be directly involved with the research itself, but they might assist with actually lining up some of the things that the researchers need, or be relegated to providing feedback when necessary.
This might also include the occasional oversight of the research from a clinical perspective as we've mentioned earlier in the job description for Clinical Nurse Specialists.
Another responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to provide the quick answers when a clinical nurse has a question that they can't quite answer. This is one part of providing some leadership and guidance to other clinical nurses, and is a little bit different than the management or administrative tasks they might be called upon to perform as well.
The next responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists might involve some managerial or administrative tasks as it relates to clinical nurse management. While most of these duties fall to a Nurse Manager to handle, Clinical Nurse Specialists might be called in frequently to provide some advice on how to structure clinical rotations, which team members should be in which shift, and what activities should be scheduled for certain shifts.
In addition, Clinical Nurse Specialist responsibilities that are a little bit similar to a Nurse Manager's might include educating certain clinical nursing staff. Another aspect of this responsibility is how it relates to making sure that each team member is working collaboratively with one another and there are no team disruptions.
A good way to remember this important responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is that they are often used as consultants for Nurse Managers when a Nurse Manager has a question they can't answer or will assume some of the responsibilities that Nurse Managers have in their absence.
Another core responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to help provide advice on or assist with the development of specialized clinical treatment plans or clinical treatment options for patients under their care. This responsibility also involves making sure that the patient is fully aware of what their treatment plan will look like, what it will entail, and some of the complications that might arise throughout the treatment plan.
The next core responsibility for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to assist with the analysis of patient data and how that patient data relates to certain outcomes. As we've covered earlier, this doesn't mean that they are Data Analysts or Data Scientists, but they gather enough information that will assist them in providing accurate consultations for administrative officials, clinical nurses, researchers, or patients who might have questions.
The next responsibility that Clinical Nurse Specialists have each day is to identify any potential ways to improve patient outcomes and decrease some of the expenses that the hospital or healthcare facility is spending money on needlessly.
Overall, the responsibilities of Clinical Nurse Specialists vary wildly depending on the area they choose to specialize in as well. Those that pursue a PhD program will likely focus on research while others will manage nursing teams and implement solutions to systemic health care problems.
To get a complete understanding of whether or not a career as a Clinical Nurse Specialist is the right path for you, it might be useful to evaluate whether or not you're interested in performing the daily activities that a Clinical Nursing Specialist is responsible for.
• Observe Patients
The most common activity on the job for Clinical Nurse Specialists involves actually observing patients and interacting with them.
• Diagnose Patient Problems, Ailments, Diseases, and Illnesses
In addition to observing patients, Clinical Nurse Specialists will be tasked with diagnosing a host of different patient problems, diseases, ailments, or illnesses that they might be suffering from. This is truly where that extra education will come into play because Clinical Nurse Specialists will be able to understand certain ailments more readily than a traditional clinical nurse.
• Perform Physical Examinations
The next most common activity for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to perform physical examinations. This will involve normal physical examinations that a patient might undergo to accurately diagnose them and determine whether or not they are suffering from a certain illness or ailment.
• Promote Disease Prevention
As a Clinical Nurse Specialist, another common activity they will experience on the job is to help promote different disease prevention techniques. This will involve educating the community and individual patients about certain diseases, what they include, what diseases are experiencing rapid expansion in certain areas, and things they can do to reduce their potential exposure to certain diseases.
• Promote Wellness Practices
The next common activity that Clinical Nurse Specialists have is to promote wellness practices. This involves the promotion of wellness practices in every aspect. From eating healthy and proper nutrition, to exercising frequently, to cutting out nasty things from your daily rotation.
Promotion of wellness practices is all about educating the patient about some of the things that they are doing, and how they can make incremental changes throughout their daily routine to work towards a healthier lifestyle.
• Order Medical Tests
Another common activity on the job for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to order certain medical tests. To get a better understanding of what a patient might be suffering from, Clinical Nurse Specialists might order certain medical tests be conducted. These clinical tests or medical tests might have also been ordered by the overseeing doctor or physician, and the Clinical Nurse Specialist has to pass the order along the chain.
• Evaluate Medical Test Results
Once the medical tests have been conducted, the next thing to do is to evaluate those medical tests that came back. The extra training, experience, and education that Clinical Nurse Specialists have will help them understand what the medical tests are reporting and how each metric relates to the patient.
• Provide Consultations for Administrative Officials
The next common activity on the job for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to provide different consultations for administrative officials as it relates to certain nursing practices, nursing recommendations, staffing recommendations, education recommendations, and more.
• Assist Research Efforts
Clinical Nurse Specialists will also be tasked with assisting various research efforts as part of their daily routine on the job. This might include evaluating potential research proposals from a nursing perspective, assisting with research guidelines and policies as it relates to nursing, in addition to potentially monitoring or providing various forms of oversight to the research.
• Assist With Managing Clinical Nursing Expectations
The next thing that Clinical Nurse Specialists are expected to do as part of their daily routine is to assist with the management of the clinical nursing expectations in their hospital or healthcare facility in which they work. This involves making sure that the nurses under their supervision or guidance have all the tools they need to meet all the expectations placed upon them.
Some of these expectations include patient retention stats, patient improvement stats, bedside manner ratings, and more.
• Provide Expert Guidance to Clinical Nurses
Arguably the most important activity on the job for Clinical Nurse Specialists is to provide expert guidance and advice to clinical nurses they work with on a daily basis. This guidance might range from a simple question, to more in-depth expert questions that need more comprehensive answers or advice.
• Communicate and Work With Other Healthcare Professionals
On a daily basis, Clinical Nurse Specialists will be tasked with communicating and working with other healthcare professionals to solve the daily challenges that the healthcare industry presents. Communicating effectively is the most important part of helping guide the next generation of nurses in the healthcare industry.
Clinical nurse specialists should be compassionate and have excellent communication skills as they will be working with individuals from all walks of life.
Communication, both orally and written, is vital to managing a team and reaching the correct solutions to problems that arise as well.
Technical skills and proficiency with the tools of the trade are needed for cohesive workflow, while a sense of accountability and a commitment to high standards of care are necessary to guarantee the best outcomes for patients.
Clinical nurse specialists in the United States are practicing in settings and areas of expertise across health care delivery systems and networks.
Clinical nursing specialists work in highly demanding environments, both physically and emotionally.
They most commonly practice in:
Clinical nursing specialists are likely to be expected to work odd hours and long shifts, depending on the state of the organization they work for.
Many provide round-the-clock patient care and work nights, weekends, and holidays.
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