MDS Nurse Job Description
MDS (or minimum data set) nurses work in long-term care facilities where they assess and monitor patient health and well-being in accordance with federal guidelines. While most MDS nurses are registered nurses (RNs), they specialize in collecting patient data and compiling this information into reports for further research and assessment. These reports are also used to develop treatment plans and evaluate the pricing and effectiveness of the facility’s patient services.
The majority of the assessment and reporting activities that MDS nurses conduct are closely related to Medicare and Medicaid guidelines, but can also include gathering data to improve the facility’s practices and patient outcomes.
MDS Nurse Duties and Responsibilities
While an MDS nurse’s specific responsibilities can vary somewhat between facilities, many of their core duties remain the same:
Conduct Patient Assessments
One of the primary responsibilities of an MDS nurse is conducting patient assessments in accordance with federally mandated guidelines. These assessments examine patients’ physical and mental well-being, focusing on indicators that can predict patient risk. If the MDS nurse identifies risk, they may also conduct the Resident Assessment Protocol (RAP) for further information and care management.
Develop Patient Care Plans
After conducting risk assessment procedures, the MDS nurse works with internal and external providers to develop patient care plans. The MDS nurse ensures that patients have access to the resources and professionals that they need, and that care plans follow federally mandated guidelines for long-term care facilities.
Make Patient and Facility Recommendations
MDS nurses contribute to effective care by making recommendations for patient support and healthcare facility operations. They may supply reports to the facility’s upper management personnel as well as to the Department of Health to ensure that patient care procedures and plans are integrated in accordance with federal guidelines. MDS nurses may also direct the activities of other nursing staff and care providers.
Oversee Medicare and Medicaid Programs
MDS nurses direct their facilities’ Medicare and Medicaid reporting and program activities. This can involve providing residents with assistance enrolling in these programs and updating their information, as well as monitoring changes in Medicare programs and coverage to ensure that the facility correctly issues reports and receives reimbursement for services provided to residents.
Provide Facility Support
Because MDS nurses need to be RNs or licensed practical nurses (LPNs), they may also occasionally provide support beyond their MDS reporting and assessment role. An MDS nurse may cover for other nursing staff in case of absence or illness, taking a more direct hand in patient caregiving and resident activities. In some cases, an MDS nurse may be “on call” to provide support and coverage for other nurses.
MDS Nurse Skills and Qualifications
MDS nurses are vital to the operations and patient care practices of long-term care facilities, particularly those that receive federal funding or reimbursement. Nursing homes and other facilities tend to hire MDS nurses with at least an associate’s degree, MDS certification, and the following skills:
- Medical assessment – MDS nurses perform patient assessment throughout the length of a patient’s stay following strict federal guidelines, so they need excellent evaluation and assessment skills
- Patient care – experience providing care to patients is a necessity, since MDS nurses work with care providers and nursing staff to develop and enact care plans to enhance patient outcomes
- Attention to detail – MDS nurses need a high level of attention to detail, both while conducting patient assessments and while filling out reports and Medicare and Medicaid-related documentation
- Critical thinking – in this role, MDS nurses must quickly respond to changing patient circumstances and rapidly assess situations to make critical decisions about patient care
- Organization skills – this role also requires a high level of organization, as MDS nurses need to adhere to strict reporting and assessment deadlines and follow procedures exactly to ensure that the facility receives federal funding and reimbursement
- Communication skills – MDS nurses communicate with care staff, patients, federal agencies, and families, so they’re also effective written and verbal communicators
MDS Nurse Education and Training
Typically, MDS nurses have at least an associate’s degree in nursing, although many healthcare facilities hire candidates who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. Most MDS nurses are RNs, but LPNs can also find employment in this role. In addition to standard nursing certifications and field experience, MDS nurses also need to complete MDS training and certification programs offered by the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordinators (AANAC).
MDS Nurse Salary and Outlook
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information specific to MDS nurses, its information on nurse salaries may provide a helpful starting point. The BLS found that licensed practical nurses (LPNs) earn a median annual salary of $44,090 per year, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning less than $32,510 and the highest paid earning over $60,420. Registered nurses (RNs) earn a median salary of $68,450, with the highest earners making over $102,990 and the lowest paid earning less than $47,120 per year.
The BLS expects employment in the nursing field to grow at a very fast rate through 2026. RN careers are expected to grow 15 percent in that time, with LPN employment growing 12 percent.
If you’d like to learn more about a career as an MDS nurse, we found a number of resources on the web for further reading and information:
American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordinators – AANAC provides education and testing for MDS nurses, along with online courses and certification examinations
Fast Facts for the Long-Term Care Nurse: What Nursing Home and Assisted Living Nurses Need to Know in a Nutshell – Charlotte Eliopoulos takes a close look at the specific needs of long-term care facility patients and how nurses can support best practices and patient outcomes
American Nurses Association – nurses can join ANA to find out more about certification, education, and professional development opportunities, and to connect with other professionals
Understanding Medicare MDS 3.0 for the Rehabilitation Professional – read this book to learn about reporting and assessment procedures for long-term care facilities
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