In the late 1980s, groups of Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) were meeting and hosting local and regional conferences in California, Indiana, and Ohio. At that time, the American Nurses Association (ANA) dissolved the CNS Council and established the Council of Nurses in Advanced Practice.  The dissolution of the CNS Council concerned CNSs around the country because of the loss of a national voice to illustrate the contributions of the CNS role.

During the 1992 National CNS Conference at Indiana University, Brenda Lyon asked participants if they believed a national association was needed. The response was a resounding YES.  Lyon along with other fellow CNSs including Jan Bingle, JoEllen Rust, Julie Painter, Rhonda Scott, Sue Davidson and Kathleen Vollman set to work to draft a constitution, bylaws and a framework for what is now the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS). In the beginning, faculty and staff at the Indiana University School of Nursing supported the work to establish NACNS.

In 1994, at the National CNS Conference in Indianapolis, Lyon and the group presented a Constitution and Bylaws for the new organization. On that day, sixty-nine charter members joined.  In 1995, Innovisions, an arm of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), volunteered to provide management oversight for the new association and NACNS became a legal entity.  On September 30, 1995, NACNS held its first official national meeting on the campus of Indiana University.

NACNS later convened a Statement Development Committee to develop the original NACNS Statement on Clinical Nurse Specialist Practice and Education. The Statement was published in 1998 and was the first national endeavor to articulate the competencies and outcomes of contemporary CNS practice and outline essential educational standards for preparing CNSs.

In the association’s first 18 months, membership grew from 67 to 530 members. In the years since, NACNS has increased its membership to more than 2,000 members, preserved a peer-reviewed journal, created numerous task forces to address the CNS role in crucial health care issues, generated policy papers, white papers, increased awareness among policy makers, other health professionals, and the public about the central role clinical nurse specialists play in ensuring evidence-based care that improves patient outcomes and reduces health care costs.