The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists was formed in 1995 to advance and preserve the clinical nurse specialist role in health care.

A group of CNSs in California, Indiana, and Ohio are primarily responsible for the founding of the association. They began meeting at small conferences in the 1980s and early 1990s after the American Nurses Association dissolved the Clinical Nurse Specialist Council and created, in its place, the Council of Nurses in Advanced Practice. The new council was intended to align with the national movement to create a “blended role” that would be known as an advanced practice nurse. Clinical nurse specialists from around the country feared that the contributions of CNSs could be lost without a national voice to represent them and took steps to create a vehicle for that voice.

In 1995, Innovisions, an arm of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses offered to provide management oversight of the new association and NACNS became a legal entity. The association had its first official national meeting on September 31, 1995 on the campus of Indiana University.

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