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What is a Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Last Updated: 03-09-2014
 

Clinical nurse specialist Fiona Williams

Are you a registered nurse wanting to take the next step in your career? Consider progressing in your area of practice as a clinical nurse specialist.


A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) is a registered nurse who is recognised as a senior member of staff across all areas of practice but particularly in acute care.

A clinical nurse specialist demonstrates a higher level of skill in their clinical decision making, especially when it comes to problem identification and solution, and analysing and interpreting clinical data.

It’s a varied role with patient care at its cornerstone.

Fiona Williams is a clinical nurse specialist in neuroscience at Epworth HealthCare in Richmond, Victoria.
/> The neurology ward treats patients with a wide range of conditions, such as acquired brain injury and acute head injuries, brain tumours and multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cancer and tumours to spinal deformity, spinal infections and spinal fractures.

Ms Williams, now in her sixth year of nursing, says there’s a lot expected of a clinical nurse specialist.

“We run a high dependency unit here and I’m often the one that will care for these patients, which is just a step down from intensive care,” she says.

“As a clinical nurse specialist, you’re expected to demonstrate both clinically and professionally to be able to monitor for acute changes and deterioration and know how to manage that and know how to liaise with the doctors and the teams.”

It’s a role that also involves leadership skills, with clinical nurse specialists often required to act as a mentor or preceptor to less experienced nurses, such as graduate nurses.

Ms Williams says clinical nurse specialists are required to support and contribute to quality improvement and research projects within their area of practice and their ward, unit or department, and are considered a valuable clinical practice resource to other nurses and health professionals.

Clinical nurse specialists must also be dedicated to pursuing professional development, whether its holding a membership of a relevant professional body or group, attending conferences and seminars to advance their learning or contributing to the education of others.

How do you become a clinical nurse specialist?

Clinical nurse specialists are registered nurses who have achieved a postgraduate qualification in nursing.

Ms Williams completed her graduate year at Epworth HealthCare, with one of her three rotations in neuroscience, before gaining a permanent position in the neuroscience ward.

After a few years of nursing, she went on to complete her postgraduate qualification through the Australian Catholic University, achieving a graduate certificate in clinical practice, specialising in neuroscience.

“Then it was a matter of applying to the hospital when the positions became open to become a clinical nurse specialist,” she explains.

“So that involved a CV and a portfolio and sitting an interview.”

Ms Williams says nurses aspiring to be clinical nurse specialists should be passionate about their work, dedicated to the role, and be willing to challenge themselves to continually learn more about their specialist area.

“You need to have an academic background because there is a lot of theory involved in doing the postgraduate education and then there’s also the clinical skills,” she says.

“You also need to be someone that the junior staff members feel that they can go to and come to for advice, and you have to remember that in this type of workforce there’s always going to be new people - you’ll need to take your time to share your knowledge with them, which in itself is very rewarding at the end of the day.

“You need to be very organised and you have to be willing to take that extra step to do that extra study, as you provide education to the ward and throughout the hospital.”

Rewards and opportunities

Ms Williams says while it takes hard work to become a clinical nurse specialist, the opportunities the role offers are extremely rewarding.

“The best part is when you get the really challenging patients that have a lot wrong with them, that need a lot of nursing care,” she says.

“They are very acutely unwell, they come in with conditions that not a lot of people know very much about.

“Neuroscience is a very unique specialty and given that I’m very well educated in this area, I get the opportunity to take care of these patients, and hopefully then get to see them get better and recover.”
 
 
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