Six steps to help you join the CDI ranks
There is a lot of discussion about how to be a good CDI specialist, but as the profession grows and facilities look to hire new CDI team members, many more people are looking to get into the field.
A few months ago, we received an email asking us what we would recommend to CDI hopefuls. After combing through our resources, consulting with our Boot Camp instructors and Advisory Board members, and interviewing working CDI specialists, here are six simple steps to help you set your feet on the CDI career path.
1. Learn as much as you can
When Shiloh A. Williams, MSN, RN, CCDS, CDI specialist at El Centro Regional Medical Center in Holtville, California, initially applied for a CDI position, she knew nothing about CDI, coding, or the revenue cycle. She did a Google search before her interview and read up on DRGs, codes, and common diagnoses. Her research, coupled with her prior nursing experience and clinical knowledge, won her the position.
“I scoured the ACDIS website for information, ideas, and best practices,” Williams says. “Now that I’m doing the job, I am constantly turning to ACDIS resources for staffing and department metrics.”
Regardless of the field or position, any candidate who learns as much as possible about the role and company prior to sitting for an interview will have a distinct advantage. You may not have hands-on experience as a CDI specialist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn as much as possible about the field.
Review the materials on the ACDIS website—much of it is free—and take lots of notes. Read the ACDIS Blog and the CDI Strategies e-newsletter for timely tips and news updates. The ACDIS Helpful Resources page and ACDIS Radio are also fantastic free options to learn about the field and the industry.
It’s also a good idea to look through CDI job postings to see what facilities are looking for in terms of knowledge and experience. Some noteworthy topics to research include:
- DRG basics
- ICD-9 and ICD-10 codes
- How to read a medical record and research a chart
- Hospital quality initiatives
2. Attend a local chapter meeting
If you have a local chapter in your area, call or email the leadership and ask if you can attend a meeting. This is a great opportunity to network with local CDI specialists, learn about the job from working professionals, and discuss timely topics and issues relevant to the field.
Networking may also lead to potential mentorship and job shadow opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Williams relied heavily on her mentors early in her CDI career.
“I was able to work alongside Marion Kruse, a well-known clinical documentation improvement and Medicare expert,” she says. “My passion for my work was fueled by her knowledge and expertise.”
Check the Local Chapter page on the ACDIS website for more information and meeting schedules.
3. Job shadow CDI staff
If you have a CDI program at your facility, ask the program staff if you can shadow them for a day to learn more about the work they do.
If your facility doesn’t have a CDI program, reach out to neighboring hospitals and see if their program would host you for a morning or afternoon.
Job shadowing is one of the most important things a prospective CDI specialist should do before applying for a job in the field, says Mark LeBlanc, RN, MBA, CCDS, director of CDI services at the Wilshire Group, and ACDIS Advisory Board member.
“It’s a great opportunity to watch a CDI specialist work, ask questions, and see the work in action,” he says.
“It’s also a chance to see how you have to interact with staff on the floor. You need to be outgoing, and you have to be able to speak to all different levels of professionals, from providers to coders, so you can get things done.”
Also take advantage of other networking opportunities, such as reaching out to members of the ACDIS Advisory Board. “The board would definitely be willing to spend a few minutes with someone to talk about CDI,” LeBlanc says.
4. Analyze your skills
Typically, the most important attributes for a top-notch CDI specialist are extensive clinical knowledge and awareness of disease processes and complications, comorbid conditions, medical coding, and Medicare reimbursement.
A balance of clinical expertise and coding knowledge makes a candidate ideal, says Bonnie Epps-Long, MSN, RN, CDI director at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.
“I think [CDI] work would be easier if we all were proficient in coding,” says Epps-Long. “If someone is interested in CDI, they should try and learn something about what coding is and why it’s important.”
Those with clinical backgrounds wishing to enter the field need to understand that CDI specialists have little to no contact with patients. Although their clinical acumen will definitely be put to use, they will no longer have any sway over the patients’ day-to-day care.
CDI work is based solely on what is written in the clinical documentation. For former bedside nurses, this requires a novel way of thinking and a willingness to learn new skills, Epps-Long says.
“[An applicant] should be able to pick up the skills to read the chart, analyze the chart, and learn the coding rules and language,” says Epps-Long. “You must be willing to learn these things and think in new ways.”
Communication skills (both written and verbal), imagination and creativity, and analytical and problem solving skills are also a must.
“You have to be willing to work with others and collaborate,” says Epps-Long.
5. Train yourself
Programs typically train new CDI specialists for three to six months through in-house mentoring, job shadowing, and formal classroom learning. They often send new staff members to a CDI Boot Camp and/ or have consulting training available.
However, if you are serious about getting a job in the field and want to expand your knowledge, it may be a good idea to sign up for an online learning program or a CDI Boot Camp on your own time. You’ll receive a comprehensive overview of the job and required knowledge, which will make you a more competitive applicant for prospective employers.
If you would like to work on training yourself, here are some helpful resources:
- The Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialist’s Complete Training Guide
- The Clinical Documentation Improvement Boot Camp
- The CDI Essential Skills Online Learning Library
LeBlanc says prospective CDI specialists should also brush up on their anatomy and physiology— especially important with the advent of ICD-10.
6. Apply for the job
You’ve done the research. You’ve decided the job is a good fit for your personality and skill set. Maybe you’ve even job shadowed a CDI specialist or networked with CDI professionals at a local event. Now it’s time to apply for the job. There are plenty of facilities out there that will hire new staff even if they do not have CDI experience. Highlight any related training and skills in your resume and during interviews.
Keep in mind, you do not need to have the Certified Clinical Documentation Specialist (CCDS) credential to become a CDI specialist. The CCDS represents a mark of distinction for those who have been working in the field for a number of years. In fact, you must be a working CDI specialist for at least two years before you can sit for the exam. CDI career path.