There seems to be some confusion when talking about what a Clinical Nurse Specialist is versus what a Nurse Practitioner is. One of the many similarities is that both careers require an advanced degree and their pay aligns with that fact. The Clinical Nurse Specialist and the Nurse Practitioner both work closely with patients however there are also a vast amount of differences between the two professions.

The Differences

Job:  While the Clinical Nurse Specialist and the Nurse Practitioner have a similar and long educational path, their job duties are quite different. Nurse Practitioners can prescribe medications, can work on their own to assess and diagnose patients, and oftentimes open their own practices. Clinical Nurse Specialists can not prescribe meds and they work alongside the medical staff, generally in a hospital setting. A CNS can manage a large staff of nurses either in a private practice or in a hospital while a NP focuses primarily on primary care within a doctor’s office.

Education:  Both the Clinical Nurse Specialist and the Nurse Practitioner have to have a master’s degree minimally, the Nurse Practitioner usually will also have a doctorate. Both careers need licensing through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and have to be renewed every five years. Continuing ed requirements are different for the two. Nurse Practitioners have to have at least 1,000 hours of clinical practice plus 75 hours of continuing ed within their area of specialty. Clinical Nurse Specialists have to complete 150 hours of continuing education with at least 51% in their specialty.

Difference in Pay

Salaries: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Nurse Practitioner will earn an annual median salary of $124,680 in 2022. This is dependent on a few variables such as where they work and years of experience. A Clinical Nurse Specialist earned a mean salary of $89,010 with the same variables as the Nurse Practitioner. 

A Nurse Practitioner needs to be self-driven because they work more independently. Clinical Nurse Specialists should be team players. Depending on personality type can help determine which career to choose. Either way, the career of a Clinical Nurse Specialist and a Nurse Practitioner are rewarding.