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Who Are Clinical Nurse Specialists? They’re Change Leaders!

Five Facts to Know in Honor of CNS Recognition Week

Philadelphia, Pa. – September 1-7 is the ninth annual National Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) recognition week and hospitals and health systems across the country are celebrating the valuable role clinical nurse specialists play in health care. This year’s theme, Clinical Nurse Specialists: Leading Change for Healthier Lives, draws attention to the ways CNSs improve patient safety and the quality of care.

“In addition to a celebration, CNS Recognition Week is a wonderful opportunity for clinical nurse specialists to speak to other health care providers and system leaders, our nursing colleagues, and our patients and families about the central role CNSs play in improving overall health and wellness,” said 2017-2018 NACNS President Vince Holly, MSN, RN, CCRN, CCNS, ACNS-BC. “This week we take extra pride in the contributions we are making as leaders of change to improve health and health care in our nation. I want to thank the thousands of CNSs working to ensure care is effective, patient-focused, high-quality and based on evidence.”

Here are five important facts to know about clinical nurse specialists.

  1. CNSs are advanced practice registered nurses who hold graduate degrees. The 2016 CNS Census revealed that two in three CNSs are nationally certified and, in addition to a master’s degree, more than one in ten CNSs also holds a doctorate. CNSs have additional education and training in advanced nursing care, physiology, pharmacology and physical assessment.
  2. CNSs are expert clinicians in a specialized area of nursing practice. Their specialty may be identified in terms of a population (ex. pediatrics), a setting (ex. emergency dept.), a disease or medical subspecialty (ex. Diabetes), type of care (ex. psychiatric), or type of problem (ex. pain). While working within a specialty, CNSs can provide direct patient care and/or lead initiatives to improve care and clinical outcomes, and reduce costs.
  3. CNSs are crucial to helping our health care system address complicated and emerging health care issues – like rising concerns about opioid misuse and abuse and the spread of infectious diseases. These issues demand the highest level of care coordination and a deep knowledge of health care and nursing research to play a leadership role in interprofessional care teams and provide efficient, effective care.
  4. How clinical nurse specialists spend their day varies. According to the 2016 CNS Census, as a group, CNSs spend most of their time providing direct patient care (22 percent), teaching nurses and staff (20 percent), consulting with nurses, staff and others (20 percent), leading evidence-based practice projects (14 percent) and assisting other nurses and staff with direct patient care (12 percent).
  5. Clinical nurse specialists are influencers in hospitals and health systems. The same survey found that of the 4 in 5 (80 percent) CNSs who work in hospital settings, more than half (58 percent) have responsibility across the entire hospital system or system-wide. Others have a span of influence that covers one or two units.

“Clinical nurse specialists can make a bigger difference in improving health care if more people understand the value, expertise and skills clinical nurse specialists bring to health care practice,” continued Holly.

In 2009, NACNS created CNS Recognition Week to celebrate CNS contributions to ensuring patient safety and improving health care and health care delivery. The week also commemorates the contributions of Hildegard Peplau to nursing and health care. Born September 1, 1909, Dr. Peplau was a prominent nursing theorist whose landmark book, Interpersonal Relations in Nursing, emphasized the nurse-client relationship as the foundation for nursing practice and today serves as the basis of the CNS role in health care.

There are more than 72,000 CNSs across the United States working in hospitals and other health care settings.

More information about CNS Week is available online.

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Founded in 1995, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) is the only association that represents the clinical nurse specialist, one of four of the advanced practice registered nurse nursing professionals.  NACNS is dedicated to advancing CNS practice and education, removing certification and regulatory barriers, and to assuring the public access to quality CNS services.

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