How to Become a Clinical Nurse: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


It’s tough enough to become a registered nurse, but becoming a clinical nurse specialist requires going above and beyond. You need a graduate degree, plus the ability to supervise and mentor staff, conduct research, and still provide great patient care in an area such as oncology, psychiatry, or neonatal care. But: you’ll develop and use exceptional healthcare skills, and have the chance to see your work make a huge difference.


Annual salaries for clinical nurse specialists will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for advanced nursing practitioners (including clinical nurses) working in the U.S. was $95,070 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for clinical nurses, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work in Clinical Nursing

New York State is the number one employer for advanced nursing practitioners (including clinical nurses) with 9,160 positions currently being occupied and making a yearly average salary of $100,420. Alaska, however, offers the highest annual average salary: the 370 professionals working statewide make an average of at $111,800.

Employment and Salary Information for Clinical Nurses

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a clinical nurse. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Clinical Nursing Specialist

Why Become A Clinical Nurse?

Difficult as it is to become a clinical nurse specialist, it’s rewarding: it’s a highly-skilled, well-paid job. But clinical nurses are not in it for the money, but for the unparalleled opportunities for their work to help patients.

  • Huge job growth. 26% over the next ten years, according to CNN Money. With the population ageing, healthcare overall will face increased demand, and high-skill positions will be especially needed.
  • Save and improve lives. There are few things more worthwhile or satisfying to do with your workday.
  • Help a lot of people. It’s not just the patients you treat. It’s the patients treated by the nurses you train and mentor, plus the people who benefit from clinical research or more efficient hospitals.
  • Excellent pay. $95,070 is the average salary for advanced nursing practitioners such as clinical nursing specialists, but according to CNN Money the best specialists earn as much as $126,000.

Clinical Nursing: What You Need To Know

In short, you need to know everything a registered nurse would know, and then some.  Here are some of the skills you’ll need:

  • Clinical and Patient Care
  • Management and Organization
  • Medical Research
  • Specialized Scientific and Medical Knowledge
  • Ability to Work under Pressure

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about clinical nursing careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Clinical Nursing Careers

It’s not easy to become a specialist. First, you need a bachelor’s degree in registered nursing (RN) from an accredited program, which can take up to four years. This degree will focus on the theoretical and practical knowledge a registered nurse needs to care for patients.

Then you’ll need to enter a clinical nursing master’s program. Many colleges and universities offer them, and some are primarily online. You’ll likely advance your knowledge in areas such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and practical care in your chosen nursing specialty.

After that, you’ll need to obtain a nursing license, as well as completing an approved graduate-level program, and passing a certification exam.