The Pros and Cons of Being an MDS Coordinator
Minimum data set (MDS) coordinators are licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) who are responsible for the federally regulated process that evaluates patient care in nursing homes and other long-term healthcare facilities. Read for more details about becoming an MDS coordinator to determine whether it is the right career choice for you.
|Pros of an MDS Coordinator Career|
|LPNs and RNs can expect higher-than-average job growth (25% for LPNs and 19% for RNs between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Most long-term healthcare facilities have at least one MDS coordinator*|
|Some employers offer on-the-job MDS training in coding, assessment and compliance reporting*|
|Responsibilities are varied, and work can be done in urban, suburban and rural locations *|
|Cons of an MDS Coordinator Career|
|Depending on the type of facility and size of staff, coordinators may have to handle additional administrative and nursing responsibilities*|
|In some cases, hours can be long and irregular to accommodate shifts*|
|Coordinators must manage individual patient needs and federally mandated regulations*|
|Some physical risk may be present when dealing with different kinds of illnesses*|
|Emotional attachments to patients and families can make it difficult to handle when patients leave care or die*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job Description and Duties
The MDS coordinator job was born from the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA), which concerns measures to improve nursing home care standards. Also known as nurse assessment coordinators, MDS coordinators work primarily in long-term care facilities, completing detailed patient assessments and submitting them to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Your efforts in mastering this process lead to more efficient reimbursement, as well as better care management.
This job, however, involves much more than data collection, coding and submission. The MDS process and the profession have been evolving to emphasize person-centered care. This means your role as an MDS coordinator will involve comprehensive, holistic patient assessment, care planning, team collaboration, detailed documentation and patient advocacy. You regularly communicate with residents, families of residents and staff in interviews, care-planning meetings and regular reviews. The relationships you develop with team members and residents and their families can be professionally and personally rewarding.
To do this job, you need to become familiar with a lot of acronyms. The main tools used in your job are the minimum data set (MDS) assessment form and resident assessment protocols (RAPs), which are the key components in the resident assessment instrument (RAI) invented by OBRA 1987. The MDS involves aspects of resident well-being, including physical, cognitive, social and emotional factors; the RAPs are primarily for care planning. In this profession, you need to keep abreast of updates to the MDS/RAI process.
Career Prospects and Salary Info
The need for long-term care is growing, largely because of financial pressures that force hospitals to discharge patients as soon as possible. Many of these patients are part of the growing elder population and have injuries or diseases that require extended care. Because of these factors, strong job growth is expected in long-term and elder healthcare.
As of December 2014, PayScale.com reported a median salary of $60,054 for MDS coordinators. Salaries may vary due to a variety of factors, including years of experience and location. Certifications and level of nursing are additional factors that contribute to salary amount.
|Certification||Approximate Median Salary (2014)|
|Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)||$42,490*|
|Registered Nurse (RN)||$66,640*|
|Resident Assessment Coordinator||$65,038**|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com.
Education and Skill Requirements
Becoming a Nurse
Typically, MDS coordinators begin their careers as LPNs or RNs. Nurses at both levels must be licensed by their state of employment, which usually requires completion of a state-approved education program and passing nursing examinations administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). LPN programs are offered by high schools, hospitals, technical schools and community colleges; they generally take about a year to complete. To become an RN, you can enroll in Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, as well as complete diploma programs offered by hospitals. The NCSBN offers a National Council Licensure Examination for prospective practical nurses (NCLEX-PN) and registered nurses (NCLEX-RN).
Becoming an MDS Coordinator
If you're working as an LPN or RN at a long-term care or nursing facility, you may receive MDS training on the job. Alternatively, MDS training workshops and courses may be available at a local university, or your state's health department may offer MDS training opportunities. Another option for getting MDS training is taking the courses offered by the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC). Through the AANAC, you can take introductory courses online or on-site in the RAI process, as well as Medicare regulations and requirements.
Job Postings from Real Employers
A review of job postings indicates some trends in the MDS coordinator job market. LPNs are often recruited to fill MDS coordinator positions, but many employers seek applicants who are RNs. While there are employers who are willing to train you on the job, many prefer to hire nurses who are familiar with the MDS/RAI process. Certification isn't required for MDS coordinators; however, employers are increasingly requesting applicants to have professional certification through the AANAC. Here are a few actual job listings from April 2012, which illustrate what employers are looking for in job candidates:
- A large Illinois healthcare center is looking for RNs to fill their MDS coordinator positions. One year of MDS experience in a long-term healthcare facility is required.
- A Tennessee transitional care and rehabilitation center has an opening for an MDS coordinator to oversee data and compliance responsibilities. RN licensing, CPR certification and knowledge of the RAI process are required.
- In Wyoming, a long-term healthcare facility seeks an MDS coordinator with RAI training to become part of their interdisciplinary team. RN licensing is required, but LPN or LVN credentials will be considered. AANAC certification must be completed within the first six months of employment.
- An award-winning Kansas nursing care facility is looking for an MDS coordinator to manage their MDS policies and procedures. Company-paid leadership training and certifications are provided, and employee career development initiatives are supported. Job requirements include current RN licensing, one year of long-term healthcare service and prior MDS experience.
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
Earning the Resident Assessment Coordinator Certified (RAC-CT) credential through the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC) will give you an advantage in the job market because many employers prefer to hire certified candidates. To earn this certification, you need to complete ten courses offered online or in workshops in topics related to the RAI/MDS process - like coding, care planning and scheduling - as well as pass a certification exam. To recertify, which is required every two years, you must pass exams based on two recertification courses.
Develop Related Skills
A review of job postings from April 2012 indicates that many employers want to hire MDS coordinators with strong computer and leadership skills. Specific computer programs mentioned include Windows applications, as well as AccuMed software tools and programs for long-term care management like PointClickCare.
You have several options for developing nursing-related leadership skills. Nursing schools host leadership conferences for nurses and offer continuing education courses in topics that include long-term care leadership and management. The American Nurses Association (ANA) offers free and low-cost courses in management and leadership skills to members. Furthermore, if you decide to pursue RAC-CT certification through the AANAC, you can choose electives in topics that include leadership, human resources management and risk management as part of the certification training program.
Other Career Paths
The patient care involved in nursing isn't for everyone; however, if you want to work in the growing healthcare field and have strong interpersonal and analytical skills, you might consider a career in healthcare administration. You will need to be able to maneuver amid the red tape of healthcare laws and regulations, as well as have technology skills. Some jobs in healthcare administration are nursing home administrator, clinical manager and health information manager. You can prepare for a health administration career by earning a bachelor's or master's degree in healthcare administration or a related field, such as health services or public administration.
If you're an RN seeking to advance to an administrative position, like nursing service administrator, supervisory experience and a master's degree in nursing or healthcare administration is typically required. The BLS projected job growth of 22% for medical and health services managers from 2010-2020, which is faster than average; these managers earned an average salary of about $96,000 in May 2011.
Informatics Nurse Specialist
If you're a nurse with computer skills seeking a change of pace, you might enjoy a career as an informatics nurse specialist, a role in which you collect and manage data to improve patient care, research or nursing education. Among the career areas you could explore in the nursing informatics field are system selection, product design, education and project management. To become an informatics nurse specialist, you typically need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and be a registered nurse. Nurses can enroll in graduate certificate or master's degree skills to learn the nursing, information and computer science skills required for this career. You can become certified in informatics nursing through the American Nurses Credentialing Center by passing an exam.
The BLS predicted that informatics nurse specialists, grouped in the computer systems analysts job category, would experience faster-than-average job growth of 22% from 2010-2020. The average salary for this profession, according to the BLS, was about $82,350.