Note from ACDIS: Welcome CDI Instructor Dawn Valdez!

CDI Strategies - Volume 14, Issue 6

Dawn Valdez RN, LNC, CCDS, CDIP, joined the ACDIS team officially at the beginning of 2020, as a full-time CDI education specialist. Since then, she’s been busy getting up to speed, hitting the road with Education Director Laurie Prescott, RN, MSN, CCDS, CCDS-O, CDIP, CRC, and answering student questions.

Over the coming months, you’ll likely see more and more of her in ACDIS’ publications, on the ACDIS Podcast, and in classrooms nationwide, so we wanted to take a few moments to help you get to know her better.

ACDIS: How long have you been in the CDI field? What did you do before entering field? Why did you get into this line of work?
I have been in the CDI field for six years and I did a few things prior to that. I had a legal nurse consulting business that I ran for 12 years (Quantum Healthcare Consultants), I was also on at the hospital as needed as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, and I was the clinical preceptor for new nurses in the ICU.

As a legal nurse, I specialized in workers’ compensation claims (on the payer side) for all 50 states, mainly working with self-insured businesses and third-party administrators. I performed payer audits for clients as well as set up medical bill review audit departments.

Ultimately, I discovered the CDI field through talking to a fellow employee. It seemed like a natural progression for my skill set.

ACDIS: What did you do before joining the ACDIS instructor team?
I held three full-time roles at my prior company. First, I was the clinical educator for a large CDI team for a moderate size hospital system. In that role, I created/delivered boot camps to new CDI specialists and developed and provided continuing education for all CDI staff on a biweekly basis. I also provided ongoing education to the coding staff as needed. Additionally, I onboarded newly acquired facilities and provided education to inherited CDI staff.

I was also a CDI manager, which involved auditing CDI specialists’ work and other managerial duties. Additionally, I was an interim CDI supervisor at two facilities within the company’s infrastructure.

ACDIS: What are you most excited about in this new role?
I am most excited about being able to teach a variety of Boot Camps to any hospital in the country and have a much wider reach to help individual CDI professionals as well.

I am very passionate about teaching and it is very important to me to be able to help CDI professionals within this ever-advancing field. There’s so much to learn and know. That’s exciting. Not all facilities have a clinical educator and I’m excited to be a part of helping hospitals grow their CDI staff and network with so many wonderful people

I also love to write new boot camps and that is exciting because this company has so many opportunities; we have a very wide education base established.

ACDIS: What has been your biggest challenge in this field? What about your biggest reward?
The biggest challenge was when I was a new CDI specialist. I did not have the best onboarding or educational experience and I almost left CDI because of it. I never want any CDI specialist to start out in the way I did, and I am very passionate about making the new CDI experience both valuable and empowering.

I also did not have any encouragement as an experienced CDI specialist, and I want to offer my support to all CDI specialists. Knowledge is power and there’s so much necessary training due to the information that spans out across so many topics. I also feel that it’s hard for most CDI professionals to get access to all that they need to know.

This is an exciting field and we’ve come a long way from CC/MCC capture to shift DRGs. There are so many avenues that the CDI professional is now interfaced with such as clinical validation, denial management, mortality reviews, risk adjustment/hierarchical condition category (HCC) reviews, compliant query writing, and so much more. I want to be a support to those CDI professionals who want to advance their knowledge base.

Critical thinking is more important now than ever and we cannot lose our past experiences that we bring to the table in thinking that we are in an “office job.” That is a HUGE misconception in the industry.

Provider engagement is so important for CDI professionals to develop and maintain. You can’t do that from a desk. We must get out there and engage and show providers how we can be a support system for them so that they have more time with their patients. When providers realize that they need their CDI specialists just as much as they need their case managers, that will be the day that we are making progress as a profession.

ACDIS: How has the field changed since you began working in CDI? What do you wish you’d known before entering the profession?
The field has changed so much since I began. When I began, we were still in the mindset of capturing CC/MCCs to shift DRGs. I never even heard of HCCs in the beginning. I was told to capture all abnormal findings and that was it. Now, CDI’s so advanced and reaches so many different areas of the hospital that we have to actively stay on top of our education to keep up.

I wish I’d known more about the foundational concepts of CDI. I don’t think that most CDI specialists get that. There’s a lot of “concepts” that need to be understood before a CDI specialist can dig into identifying data in the record. It’s MORE than teaching someone how to capture a principal and secondary diagnosis. It’s important to understand WHY those things are important and what they do to each case. That will take a new CDI professional far in working a variety of medical scenarios.

ACDIS: What piece of advice would you offer to a new CDI specialist?
Put your critical thinking cap on and learn all that you can! You’ll learn so much more about the clinical world and the more that you understand about disease pathology and pathophysiology, the more you’ll identify in the record, write better queries, identify clinical validation opportunities quality issues, risk adjustment opportunities, and contribute to denial prevention.

All of that will lead to educational opportunities for providers so they can spend more time in patient care. We must not forget about the patients. I come from a nursing background so I can say that for those CDI who are nurses, we helped one patient at a time when at the bedside, now as CDI professionals, we have the potential to help entire communities that our facilities support. We can influence so many areas of our hospitals in a way that assists everyone.

ACDIS: If you could have any other job, what would it be?
I already have it. I am very passionate about empowering people and teaching is my niche. I love to teach and promote growth both in the individual as well as the institutions that will have far reaching effects in helping the whole.

I also love to teach motivational types of classes. I think the better we know ourselves and how we can enhance our lives, the more we bring to the table regardless of what job we do.

ACDIS: What was your first job (what you did while in high school)?
I was a candy striper in a small hospital in my town and I also worked part time at Marshalls.

ACDIS: Can you tell us about a few of your favorite things?

  • Vacation spots: I have spent a lot of time in Peru. I’ve been there 15 times and love it. That’s my peaceful place where I regenerate. I also love the mountains as I live in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Being outdoors renews me. One of my kids lives in Alaska so I go there every year and that is always a refreshing place for me because there is so much nature there.
  • Hobby: I love to hike and be in nature. I also restore old furniture and do a lot with chalk painting; I love to create crafts and home décor pieces. I also love to write and reading is always a favorite past time when I can’t be outdoors. I also love to study different cultures and travel to foreign places to see how other cultures live. I spent many years studying work, religions, and history as well.
  • Non-alcoholic beverage: I love good old-fashioned lemonade but mostly drink water.
  • Foods: Italian and Indian foods are my favorite.
  • Activity: I love horseback riding when I have time. I have an old Victorian house and I love to work on various projects that never seem to end.

ACDIS: Tell us about your family and how you like to spend your time away from CDI.
I have a large family of three children and seven grandchildren that keep me busy when I’m away from CDI. I live in a tourist area, so I get a lot of company for which we do various things such as ride over the mountain to the Indian reservation, go on hikes, go horseback riding, camping, and fishing as well as antique store shopping, flea markets etc.

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ACDIS Guidance, Ask ACDIS, Education