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How Can I Become a Certified MDS Coordinator?

Explore the career requirements for certified MDS coordinators. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is an MDS Coordinator?

Certified minimum data sets (MDS) coordinators follow state and federal guidelines to administer the MDS process for patients in long-term care facilities. Their work involves careful financial evaluations, as well as discussions of residents' needs with other facility staff members. Based on their findings, they determine what resource utilization group a patient should be placed in. They also report their results in writing.

The table below lists some career facts for certified MDS Coordinators.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Health information technology, Nursing
Certification Resident Assessment Coordinator Certified (RAC-CT)
Key Responsibilities Assess residents in long-term care facilities using the MDS to identify what resource utilization groups patients should be assigned to
Job Growth (2018-2028) 17% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2019) $64,653**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Would I Do as an MDS Coordinator?

You use your clinical assessment skills to manage resident assessments in long-term care facilities as required by state and federal guidelines and regulations. You accomplish this by using the MDS, a data collection tool, to identify in which resource utilization group to assign patients for Medicare reimbursement. MDS procedures for classification include interviewing and observing the patient. You also interview the patient's healthcare providers before completing the assessment. You may also be assigned other healthcare duties if you are a registered nurse.

What Education and Certifications Do I Need?

The American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC) offers the Resident Assessment Coordinator Certified (RAC-CT) certification (www.aanac.org) to nurses or other clinicians who use the residential assessment instrument (RAI) in their jobs and wish to become certified MDS coordinators. Membership in the AANAC is not required. However, members get a discount on courses.

You complete seven core and three elective AANAC courses to attain certification. You must pass each course exam with a minimum score of 80% to fulfill the certification requirements. Core courses cover MDS coding, Medicare and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Some of the elective courses offered are pressure ulcer prevention and management, human resource management and survey readiness.

Many employers prefer to hire RAC-CTs who have an associate's degree and are licensed registered nurses. Required undergraduate courses cover mental, clinical and surgical nursing, as well as microbiology, anatomy, psychology and nutrition. Prior to graduation, you also complete various lab experiences. Registered nurse licensure requirements vary by state, but almost always involve passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX).

Where Might I Work?

You might work in a hospital that provides extended care through a swing-bed program. Skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes also hire MDS coordinators to complete RAIs. And organizations that oversee several long-term care facilities employ traveling MDS coordinators.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a registered nurse, you could choose to focus your career in another area. For instance, you could provide basic care at a family doctor's office, or you could assist surgeons during operations. Alternatively, you could pursue a job as a medical assistant, where you would divide your time between medical office administration and basic clinical services like taking vital signs and helping with patient examinations. To get a job as a medical assistant, you would need to complete a postsecondary certificate program.