How Can I Become MDS Certified?

Explore the career requirements for Minimum Data Set (MDS) certification. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, professional licensure and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an MDS Certified Professional Do?

MDS Certified professionals use the Minimum Data Set (MDS) system to record patient activity for use by the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This designation is an option for current registered nurses (RNs). MDS is commonly used in long-term care facilities, where it can be used to document a patient's physical and psychological status, the clinical care they are provided, their current social abilities and their end-of-life care plans. MDS Certified nurses fill out paperwork using the MDS system and submit it to higher-level MDS coordinators, who review it and submit it to Medicare or Medicaid.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview on how to enter this field.

Degree Required Nurse training diploma, Associate's degree, Bachelor's degree
Certification Required
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Observing patients, recording patient data, consulting with medical team members, teaching patients and patients' family members, planning
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 (for all registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is MDS Certification?

According to the AANAC, it's essential that medical support teams recognize and accurately record patient activity ( The Minimum Data Set (MDS) system is a specific method to code and document patient information, which is then used to formulate Resource Utilization Groups (RUG) scores. RUG scores represent a number of important aspects of patient health, such as the level of special care needs and patient state of mind, including possible depression. RUG scores also record a patient's ability to eat, use the bathroom and other activities related to mobility. If proper MDS data isn't recorded, it could contribute to inaccurate RUG scores and thus adversely affect patient treatment. Payment errors or legal intervention due to potential fraudulent actions may also occur.

Do I Need a Degree?

Registered nurses (RNs) are eligible to attain MDS certification. In order to become an RN, you must complete a nursing program, or earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. The MDS certification requires additional education through a certification program.

Do I Need to Be Licensed or Certified?

You can receive MDS training by earning Resident Assessment Coordinator Certification, or RAC-CT. The RAC-CT program, standardized by the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC), has a total of ten courses; seven of these courses are required, while three are electives that provide you with an opportunity to specialize. MDS 3.0 training is included in several courses, along with clinical assessment and care planning, Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI)/MDS regulations, Medicare and RUG. The elective topics include survey readiness, survey management and enforcement, human resource management, leadership, pain assessment and risk management.

You need to pass ten final exams to earn the RAC-CT certification, which needs to be renewed every two years. The recertification process includes passing a course on field updates and common coding errors. If you have Certified Nurse Executive status, then recertification isn't necessary. If you're already certified in MDS 2.0, you'll need to complete the MDS 3.0 certification requirements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Many jobs for registered nurses do not require MDS certification. For instance, you could work as a critical care nurse in an emergency room or intensive care unit of a hospital. In this job, you would work with patients only briefly, helping physicians diagnose and treat acute illnesses or injuries before patients are transferred to other departments for stabilization and/or more specialized care. Another option is a position as a genetic nurse, which involves screening patients for genetic disorders, offering family planning counseling and assisting doctors with treatment. For any of these jobs, aspiring nurses must complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program and pass the RN licensure exam.

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