Top Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs (2024)
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Like other advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) programs, online clinical nurse specialist (CNS) programs are specialized. A CNS program may offer a specialization in one or more of the following: adult-gerontology, family, pediatric, neonatal, women’s health, psychiatric-mental health, pediatric critical care, neonatal critical care, and adult-gerontology critical care.
An aspiring CNS may choose to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or a post-master’s certificate. Entry points vary, but all online CNS programs require a valid RN license no matter the degree pathway. Many are designed for BSN-prepared registered nurses, but others may accept nurses with an associate’s degree in nursing, a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, or a master of science in nursing (MSN).
A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice registered nurse who must earn a graduate degree in nursing and become certified as a CNS through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
The clinical nurse specialist role falls closely parallel to the nurse practitioner role. The degree path takes about two to three years to complete depending on the program chosen.
CNSs can diagnose, treat, and manage patients’ healthcare in their respective specializations, providing expertise and support to other nursing professionals, doctors, and specialists. The CNS role is vital to improving patient quality of care and costs. In fact, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NANCS) reports that research shows CNS care reduces hospital costs and lengths of stay, improves pain management, reduces emergency room visits, increases patient satisfaction, and reduces medical complications in hospitals.
Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Program Rankings
Aspiring clinical nurse specialists should enroll in educational programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Universities throughout the country are now offering online CNS programs, all at the graduate level.
These distance-based programs are usually entirely or primarily online, with practicums local to the student, and minimal campus visits required. The top online clinical nurse specialist programs listed here are ranked by cost, admissions flexibility, and program variety.
Our database contains 1,035 online APRN programs at the MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate levels for the 2023-2024 school year. For our purposes, a program must require no more than nine total campus visits to qualify for our rankings.
At NPSchools.com, we aim to maintain a comprehensive listing of online APRN programs that meet our criteria, and we seek to ensure the accuracy of all of the data on our website. That said, advanced nursing education is a dynamic space. Should you find an error or a missing program, please contact us to bring it to our attention.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Career & Salary
The BLS doesn’t track growth specifically for clinical nurse specialists, but it does have figures for two related occupations.
First, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nursing (RN) jobs are predicted to grow 6 percent between 2022 and 2032. This growth is estimated to create 177,400 new positions in the same decade (BLS 2023).
Second, nurse practitioners are growing at an impressive rate in the United States, being the second-fastest with a projected growth rate of 45 percent between 2022 and 2032, creating 118,600 new jobs nationally (BLS 2023).
Since CNSs are advanced practice nurses with at least master’s degrees, their salaries are more similar to NPs than RNs. The average annual salary for NPs varies by state, but on average, stands at $124,680 (BLS May 2022) with the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile: $87,340
- 25th percentile: $103,250
- 50th percentile (median): $121,610
- 75th percentile: $135,470
- 90th percentile: $165,240