MDS Nurse Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a Minimum Data Set (MDS) nurse's job duties, education and licensure requirements. Get straight talk about salary and employment prospects to make an informed choice about a career as an MDS nurse.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in MDS Nursing

Minimum Data Set (MDS) nurses care for patients in a variety of nursing care facilities, assessing their status and progress in compliance with federal and state regulations Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of working as an MDS nurse.

Pros of a Career as an MDS Nurse
Above average salary potential (average about $69,790 for all registered nurses as of 2014)*
Good job growth prospects (16% between 2014 and 2024)*
Lower educational requirements (1-4 years of postsecondary training)*

Cons of a Career as an MDS nurse
Continuing education requirements are required for licensure*
Shift work (24-hour work environment)**
General workplace hazards and disease transmission*
Long hours on your feet*

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job ads posted in November 2012.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

As an MDS nurse, you would work in a Medicare or Medicaid certified skilled nursing or care facility. MDS nurses are responsible for assessing patients when they enter the facility, developing care and discharge plans, managing patient files, coordinating care teams and effecting communications between medical staff and patients and their families.

As you treat patients, you'll observe and report on their health and progress. The data that you gather in this role is part of the Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI), which is used primarily to help patients; however it's also used to request Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements using the Prospective Payment System (PPS) as well as ensure that nursing facilities meet both federal and state standards.

Salary and Career Prospects Info

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were almost 2.7 million registered nurses and nearly 700,000 LPNs employed across the country. Nursing care facilities were the largest employer of LPNs and the fourth largest employer of RNs. The BLS reported mean annual salaries of about $69,790 for registered nurses (RNs) and around $43,420 for licensed practical nurses (LPNs), as of May 2014. The BLS also projected that job opportunities would increase by 16% for each between 2014 and 2024.

What Is Required to Become an MDS Nurse?


Most commonly, MDS nurses are RNs, which requires an associate or a bachelor's degree in nursing and passage of a licensing exam. Less frequently, MDS nurses are LPNs, which requires graduation from a certificate program and passing a licensure examination. Degree programs for nurses generally will cover topics such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology and pharmaceuticals, and will involve hands-on courses in clinical settings. Additionally, you'll need to take a course in MDS regulations, which are produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Training courses are offered through seminars by a variety of sources.


To work as a nurse in the U.S., you'll need to be licensed, which involves graduating from an accredited program, passing a criminal background check and passing either the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) or the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nursing (NCLEX-RN), which are administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. There is no additional licensure requirement for MDS nurses.


Due to the amount of data to be recorded and the critical nature of how it is used, you'll need to be highly detail oriented and observant. You'll also need to be able to communicate clearly with patients and care facility staff, and be compassionate and calm because you'll be working with the people who are dealing with medical difficulties and high levels of stress.

What Do Employers Look For?

A sampling of ads for MDS nurses showed that employers sought nurses who had computer, organizational and communications skills. Being a team player was also mentioned as was shift work. What follows are examples of real job postings from November, 2012:

  • A Massachusetts long-term health care provider sought an experienced MDS coordinator to work 32 hours a week. Requirements included current state RN license with MDS experience, proficiency in the RAI/PPS processes and strong communication and organizational skills.
  • An Illinois skilled nursing and rehab facility advertised openings for nurses skilled in MDS, restorative nursing and supervision to work in a new rehabilitation unit.
  • An Ohio nursing facility posted an ad seeking an experienced RN MDS nurse to work in both long-term and skilled rehabilitation. Experience in MDS/PPS scheduling, family meetings, quality assurance and care planning was required.
  • A North Carolina long-term care facility posted an opening for a full-time MDS RN to work the first shift. Minimum of one year experience was required.

How to Stand Out

Earn Certification

The American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination administers certification exams in areas such as the Resident Assessment Coordinator Certified (RAC-CT) certification, which requires taking ten courses covering topics such as MDS 3.0 coding, Medicare Part A and OBRA timing and scheduling. The AANAC also has certification exams for executive nurses and nurse managers. Additional coursework in general management and/or advanced MDS topics would also show well on a resume.

Pursue Advanced Education

According to the BLS, nurses who have earned a bachelor's degree will have better job prospects than those with an associate's degree would, and many job ads have a stated preference for RNs with a bachelor's degree. If you want to get into management, or want to work more independently, you might want to look into becoming a nurse practitioner, which would require a master's degree.

Alternate Career Paths

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

If you would like to work in a skilled care setting, but would prefer to work directly with patients doing rehabilitation, you might look into becoming a PTA. PTAs are licensed much like nurses are, and you'll need to earn an associate's degree from an accredited program and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam to become licensed. According to the BLS, PTAs earned a median salary of around $51,000 as of May 2011, and job opportunities in the field were expected to grow by 45% between 2010 and 2020.

Psychiatric Technician

If you would like to work with patients, but do not want to necessarily earn an associate's degree or deal with becoming licensed, you might want to consider a career as a psychiatric technician. Technicians typically do earn a certificate, which may take several semesters, but are generally not required to be licensed. In this role you might record patient behavior, lead activities, give medications and help patients with daily living. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that psychiatric technicians earned a median salary of around $28,000 per year, and that job opportunities in the field would grow by 15% between 2010 and 2020.

Healthcare Administrator

MDS nurses often manage care plans for patients, but if the idea of managing is what's appealing to you, you might look into becoming a healthcare administrator. In this role you might oversee an entire facility, department or group of medical professionals. The BLS has projected a 22% increase in job opportunities in healthcare administration between 2010 and 2020, and reported a median salary of over $86,000 per year for administrators the field. A bachelor's degree is required to work in this field, and graduate degrees in areas such as business or health services are common.

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Liberty University

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