What is an MDS Nurse?

6 Min Read Published February 15, 2024
What is an MDS Nurse?

If you are a registered nurse (RN) with strong organizational and communication skills and want a non-bedside nursing job, MDS nursing might be a great fit for you. Read on to learn more about what an MDS nurse does, how to become one, and more. 

What Is an MDS Nurse?

A minimum data set  (MDS) nurse monitors, assesses, and documents patients’ health at a residential or long-term care facility. This data is used to create state and federal government-mandated reports on patient health at the facility. 

The Minimum Data Set is a state and federally-mandated process used to clinically assess patients at admission and discharge. 

MDS nurses typically work in residential facilities and long-term care centers to help with Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurance details. Some MDS nurses also help the medical team create and facilitate patient care plans.

The MDS collects information on each patient's physical, psychological, and psychosocial functions. Also included are assessments of the patient treatments, including hospice care, dialysis, chemotherapy, and physical, speech, and occupational therapy.

What Do MDS Nurses Do?

To succeed in this specialty, MDS nurses must have strong clinical and critical thinking skills. MDS nurse tasks can include:

  • Participating in the admission and discharge of patients to determine nursing needs and appropriate placement
  • Collecting, organizing, and documenting patient information
  • Assessing and monitoring patient health in alignment with state and federal guidelines, and medical laws
  • Communicating with patient's healthcare team and developing healthcare plans
  • Helping patients enroll in Medicare, Medicaid, or other healthcare plans
  • Advocating for patients to ensure they have access to the healthcare resources they need to receive optimal care

MDS nurses must also stay versed on the most current payer constraints as well as Medicare and Medicaid skilled nursing facility (SNF) billing requirements.

MDS nurses most frequently work in medical centers and long-term care facilities. They also communicate with members of patients' care teams, including:

  • Nursing staff and physicians 
  • Physical therapists
  • Nutritionists
  • Speech therapists
  • Occupational therapists

Essential qualities to perform well as an MDS nurse include:

  • Strong leadership, organizational, and communication skills
  • Excellent judgment and critical thinking skills
  • A desire to advocate and provide compassionate help to patients
  • Ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing long-term care environments and annual government regulation modifications

How to Become an MDS Nurse

1.  Earn Your Nursing Degree

You will need to start by completing an accredited nursing program. There are two pathways you can take:

You must ensure that your nursing program is accredited by one of the two accrediting bodies:

Remember that most hiring managers prefer to hire bachelor’s trained nurses, so earning a BSN usually offers more employment opportunities than an ADN.

2. Pass the NCLEX Exam

Upon graduating from your nursing program, you will want to obtain licensure as an RN in your state.

You need to apply to your state board of nursing to take the National Certification Licensing Examination (NCLEX). Each state has its own requirements for taking the exam, so make sure you contact your state to learn what those requirements are.

3. Gain Experience as a Registered Nurse

Now you need to get your first job as a new grad nurse. Most MDS nurses have at least one year of experience working as bedside nurses. However, many facilities require several more years of nursing experience for job eligibility.

4. Apply For MDS Nurse Positions

Now is the time to apply for MDS nurse positions! Most facilities typically require you to complete more MDS training and shadow another MDS nurse before you start on your own. 

5. Earn RAC-CT Certification

The next step is to earn Resident Assessment Coordinator Certification (RAC-CT). The RAC-CT certification is currently offered by the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN).

RAC-CT certification is the professional gold standard for nurses who work in an MDS role.

MDS Nurse Salary 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022, RNs earned a median annual income of $81,220 or $39.05 per hour. However, the BLS does not differentiate between the different nursing specialties.

ZipRecruiter reports that as of November 2023, MDS nurses in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of $68,684 or $33 per hour.

Earnings as an MDS nurse will also depend on the total level of nursing experience you have. For example, a nurse with five years or less experience will earn less than a nurse who has been working for 20 years. In most cases, you can expect an increase in pay for every year you work. 

Keep in mind that earnings as an MDS nurse depend on several factors, such as your location, your level of education, and the type of facility where you work.

Highest Paying States for MDS Nurses

According to ZipRecruiter, the top five highest-paying states for MDS nurses are:

  • Minnesota: $81,054 annually or $38.97/hr
  • Nevada: $80,965 annually or $38.93/hr
  • Massachusetts: $80,271 annually or $38.59/hr
  • Oregon: $79,709 annually or $38.32/hr
  • Hawaii: $78,463 annually or $37.72/hr

Highest Paying Cities for MDS Nurses

According to ZipRecruiter, the top five highest-paying cities for MDS nurses are:

  • Santa Clara, CA: $84,487 annually or $40/62/hr
  • San Buenaventura, CA: $84,154 annually or $40.46/hr
  • San Francisco, CA: $83,562 annually or $40.17/hr
  • Washington, DC: $82,892 annually or $39.85/hr
  • San Jose, CA: $81,087 annually or $38.98/hr

Career Outlook for MDS Nurses

The career outlook for MDS nurses is very good. The BLS reports that the job outlook for nursing of all specialties is expected to grow about 6% between 2022 and 2032, which is about as fast as average professions.

However, the BLS also reports that medical and health services manager positions, including CMS nurses, are expected to grow by 28% from 2022-2032, which is much faster than average careers. 

MDS nurses are essential to ensure that facilities get proper reimbursement for treatments and that appropriate care is provided to patients at facilities. MDS nurse careers have continued to evolve in post-acute care since the 2019 launch of the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM).

Continuing Education Requirements for MDS Nurses

Continuing education requirements vary depending on the state requirements where you work. Many states require a set number of continuing education units (CEUs) to renew RN licensure but do not require a separate number of CEUs to work specifically as an MDS nurse.

For example, in Washington, RNs must complete 8 CEUs every two years to maintain licensure. However, Texas requires 20 CEU hours every two years. Some states require significantly more, like Maine, who requires 50 hours of CEU credits every two years.

The AAPACN recommends supplemental MDS nurse training to advance knowledge and skills within the specialty. Supplemental training also allows nurses to showcase their expertise in the areas of assessment and care coordination. Their recommended courses include:

Currently, there are no specific mandatory MDS nurse CEU requirements. However, that may change as long-term care facilities hire more MDS nurses.

Where Can I Learn More about MDS Nurses?


What Does MDS Stand For? 

MDS stands for minimum date set. MDS nursing is a specialty that involves monitoring, assessing, and documenting patients’ health at a residential or long-term care facility.

How Long Does it Take to Learn MDS? 

There is no set time for the amount of time it takes to learn MDS.  However, the AAPACN recommends supplemental MDS nurse training to advance knowledge and skills to gain expertise in MDS. 

They recommend the MDS Essentials Virtual Workshop Series for nurses with less than six months of MDS experience and RAC-CT certification for nurses with more than six months of MDS experience. 

Is MDS Nursing Stressful?

Like all nursing specialties, MDS nursing can be very stressful. MDS nurses must manage complex medical conditions and make critical decisions impacting each patient's life. 

Do MDS Nurses Work on the Floor?

MDS nursing is a position that does not require the nurse to work at the bedside. However, due to the current nursing shortage, some facilities may have their MDS nurses work some shifts as floor nurses to help fill staffing gaps.

Sarah Jividen
Sarah Jividen
Nurse.org Contributor

Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a trained neuro/trauma and emergency room nurse turned freelance healthcare writer/editor. As a journalism major, she combined her love for writing with her passion for high-level patient care. Sarah is the creator of Health Writing Solutions, LLC, specializing in writing about healthcare topics, including health journalism, education, and evidence-based health and wellness trends. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. 

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