How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (4 Years)

In order to become a clinical nurse specialist, candidates must first earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing by undertaking a 4-year university program to prepare them for higher levels of education.

The preparation timeline below provides an example curriculum for undergraduate nursing students:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I & Lab
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology II & Lab
  • Psychology I
  • Microbiology I & Lab
  • Introduction to Professional Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics Humanities Requirement
  • Pathophysiologic Foundations of Nursing care
  • Foundations of Nursing Practice I
  • Foundations of Nursing Practice II
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Statistics for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Nursing Management of Adults with Acute/Chronic Illness
  • Introduction to Critical Appraisal & Evidence-Based Practice
  • Nutrition for Clinical Practice Humanities Requirement
  • Nursing Care of Mothers, Newborns, and Families & Clinical
  • Nursing Care of Children & Clinical
  • Ethics in Nursing and Health
  • Nursing Care of Clients with Mental Health Problems & Clinical
  • Advanced Nursing Management of Adults with Acute/Complex Health Problems & Clinical
  • Nursing Care of Older Adults & Clinical
  • Community Health Nursing & Clinical
  • Advanced Clinical Problem Solving & Clinical
  • Transition into Professional Nursing Practice & Clinical
  • Introduction to Genetics & Molecular Therapeutics
  • Athletic Training Clinical III & IV
  • Remaining Electives

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

Most graduate programs revolving around forensic science require the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE) for admittance. It's a 3 hour and 45 minute, standardized, multiple choice exam that covers analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as follows:

Section Section Breakdown
1 Analytical Writing Section
  • 2 writing assignments
  • 60 minutes
  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas.
2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections
  • 20 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data.
2 Verbal Reasoning Sections
  • 20 questions per section
  • 30 minutes per section
  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material
1 Unscored Section
  • A duplicate of one of the above sections

You can find study materials, GRE registration, and test scores on the GRE website.

3. Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a Clinical Nursing Specialty

To become a clinical nursing specialist, aspiring nurses must earn a Master of Science in Nursing, specializing in Clinical Nursing. These programs often only take an additional 2 years to complete and are well worth the additional work as they open more opportunities than a bachelor's degree alone can.

The preparation timeline below shows an example curriculum:

Year Example Courses
  • Philosophical, Theoretical, and Ethical Basis for Nursing
  • Applications of Research to Practice
  • Healthcare for Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Adult & Geriatric Variation
  • Health Promotion & Disease Prevention
  • Practice Research Applications
  • Statistical Literacy in Nursing Research
  • Advanced Health Assessment & Measurement
  • Human & Family Development
  • Program Development & Evaluation in Healthcare

4. Take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)

The NCLEX has a varying number of questions, from 75 to a possible 265, that can be answered. There will be 15 experimental questions among the total, regardless of how many were answered.

The maximum allotted time for the exam is 6 hours and no mandatory breaks are required. Testers can, however, take optional breaks after 2.5 and 3.5 hours of the exam.

The NCLEX is broken down into four primary categories under "Meeting Client Need" and eight subcategories under those:

"Meeting Client Needs" categories

Safe & Effective Care Environments
  • Management of Care
  • Safety & Infection Control
Health Promotion & Safety
  • Health Promotion & Safety
Psychosocial Integrity
  • Psychosocial Integrity
Physiological Integrity
  • Basic Care & Comfort
  • Pharmacological & Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaption

For more information on the NCLEX, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

5. Earn the Required Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS) Certification

Certified nursing specialists must pass a certification exam to being employment. Each specialty has its own exam that must be completed and maintained throughout the years.

For more information about certification exams, go to the American Nurses Credentialing Center.