To become a MDS (minimum data set) coordinator, one must first complete a nursing degree program. A high school diploma or GED certificate is required to enroll in a nursing bachelor's degree program, which is the most common training program for nurses. After obtaining this degree, one must pass a nursing exam to receive licensure. With licensure, nurses can pursue MDS coordination certification.
MDS coordinators must be organized and have the ability to multi-task. The job calls for good communication skills because of the high level of interaction with medical professionals and patients. MDS coordinators should be detail oriented to be able to complete detailed medical forms, charts and databases. Most employers require that MDS coordinators have knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid because many patients are enrolled in these healthcare programs.
- Program Levels in MDS Training: Bachelor's, master's.
- Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED; undergraduate degree is required for admission to the graduate level.
- Online Availability: Commonly available online.
- Program Length: Four years for bachelor's; two to three years for master's.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A bachelor's degree program in nursing provides a comprehensive curriculum that addresses medical terminology, medical assessment, healthcare systems, patient care and advanced nursing practices. Students typically learn through a combination of traditional classroom instruction and simulated nursing labs. Programs require four years of study and include courses in the following:
- Anatomy, biology and physiology
- Foundations of nursing practices
- Medical terminology
- Nursing technology and resources
- Public health nursing
- Healthcare administration
Master of Science in Nursing
Nurses interested in advanced, supervisory or management positions in nursing can obtain master's degrees in nursing after completing their undergraduate coursework. Master's degree programs tend to focus on clinical and research-based aspects of nursing. Graduate programs typically culminate with thesis projects that demonstrates nursing candidate competency. Common courses include the following:
- Advanced nursing assessments
- Trends and ethical issues in nursing
- Nursing management and leadership
- Advanced pathophysiology
- Nursing educator roles
- Child nursing care
Hospitals, nursing facilities and other employers typically prefer to hire MDS coordinators with 1-2 years of experience. Some employers only ask for previous nursing experience, while others may require relevant MDS coordination experience. Senior and supervisory MDS coordination positions may require more than two years of experience.
Because MDS coordinators are generally required to be RNs, nursing licensure is considered mandatory. To obtain nursing licensure, nurses must complete approved nursing degree programs and pass the NCLEX-RN, the standard nursing licensure exam. With licensure, nurses can seek certification from the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordinators (AANAC).
Certification from the AANAC requires nurses to complete ten assessment courses. Seven courses make up the core curriculum and nurses have their choice of three electives. After completing ten courses, nurses receive Resident Assessment Coordinator - Certified (RAC-CT) credentials. Certification, though not mandatory, is preferred by most employers because it demonstrates proficiency in nursing and resident assessment. Courses in the AANAC certification curriculum include the following:
- MDS coding concepts
- Timing and scheduling for MDS coordinators
- Medical care planning
- MDS billing
- Medication administration
- Accurate assessment practices
MDS coordination workshops may be offered by university nursing departments. Because no MDS-based degree programs exist, traditional nursing programs may offer MDS workshops that address MDS issues.
In addition to certification courses, the AANAC also offers online training seminars for MDS coordinators. These seminars are available to all MDS coordinators for a fee, though AANAC members receive a significant discount. Topics covered include MDS medical code changes, quality nursing care practices and legal aspects of MDS coordination and nursing care. Seminars offered by the AANAC are self-study and allow MDS coordinators to learn at their own pace.
The National Resident Assessment Institute (NRAI) also offers seminars, both online and in-person. In-person seminars are held in various cities throughout the year. Online seminars are previously recorded in-person seminars. Completion of these workshops leads to a NRAI certificate.
Professional development and continuing education resources are available from the AANAC and the NRAI, both leading organizations in MDS coordination and resident assessment. These organizations provide salary, networking and continuing education information for MDS coordinators and other medical assessment professionals.
Both organizations provide information that is taken directly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which provides MDS manuals, medical forms and industry statistics. Membership to the AANAC provides MDS coordinators with access to newsletters, online discussion groups and an extensive document and article library. The NRAI offers a consultant report that includes information for those interested in becoming independent MDS consultants. MDS coordinators may also pursue graduate nursing certificates or nursing Ph.D.s to improve career prospects and learn additional nursing assessment skills.