Clinical Nurse Specialist vs. Nurse Practitioner


While both are masters in nursing degree holders, there is some apparent difference in the role assigned and carried out by each. Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners undergo similar training during their first year of graduate study but disparity between curriculums occurs in the second year. There are many similarities and differences that can be observed between a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNP) and a Nurse Practitioner (NP) from the point of nursing school to the ultimate professional work settings.

Below are the differences between the two nursing professionals.

Differences During Study

While nurse specialists and nurse practitioners receive almost the same training, some differences can be seen at the second year of study. Nurse Practitioners are trained on offering primary care to patients. In fact, they are trained to work exactly like physicians, hence can be referred to as physician extenders. On the other hand, Clinical Nurse Specialists are trained more on areas of management, consultation of being good resources for other Registered Nurses in the healthcare field. Their training has more focus on them being change agents, instructors and policy makers in their fields of specialty.

CNS vs NP –  At The Place of Work

Generally, nurse practitioners are trained to offer primary care. As such, they can be found at physicians’ offices working as physician extenders. They do diagnosis of patients and are also mandated to administer prescriptions.  On the contrary, Clinical nurse specialists provide minimal primary clinical care. They normally work as nursing consultants and are called upon when a patient in the area of their specialty develops complications.

On the scope of work, nurse practitioners are able to practice nursing in a large area of nursing care. They handle patients from all ages who fall within the bracket of their specialty e.g. acute care, family health, adult health etc. For clinical nurse specialists, their scope of work falls within a limited area of nursing where examples include cardiology, geriatrics and pediatrics among other streamlined areas of nursing.

It is also common to find nurse practitioners working in outpatient clinics where patients are expected to be served by one general practitioner. In these places, nurse practitioners offer a wide spectrum of nursing services by working collaboratively with the physician. On the contrary, clinical nurse specialists are usually found in large hospitals where they take care of hospitalized patients. Their services are more focused as compared to the broadened scope of NPs.

In terms of prescription authority, nurse practitioners automatically qualify to offer prescriptions to their patients after doing necessary diagnosis. Their counterparts the nurse specialists do not automatically qualify to give prescriptions to patients. In order to do this, the clinical nurse specialists must apply for prescriptive authority only if they meet the criteria required to offer prescriptions

Salary Differences Between a CNS and NP

Generally, there is no huge difference in the level of salaries of these two nursing professions. Due to the similar level of education, employers make no distinction between nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists. Disparities in salaries are not significant. The average annual salary of a NP in the US is around $85000 while that of the nurse specialist falls at around$ 86900.

What Brings the Nurse Practitioner Close To The clinical Nurse Specialist?

Regardless of the above differences between these two nursing professionals, many people do not make a distinction between them. It is for this reason why this question crops-up every now and then. The biggest confusion comes when people know that both nurses are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) and they receive the same levels of clinical training.

The credentialing body for both NP and CNS nurses is the American Nurses Credentialing centre. The requirements for credentialing are almost similar and are actually difficult to delineate.

In essence, both nurses must work collaboratively to achieve the objective of nursing practice. Clinical Nurse Specialists can engage in research and teaching and management roles and work as valuable resources of nursing concepts. On the other hand, NPs must take up the research findings and resources provided by their counterparts to keep the dream of nursing alive. It is a parallel and mutual benefit approach-precisely.

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