Becoming a CDIS: 3 Steps to Take Before You Apply for the Job

by Rebecca Hendren, Association of Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialists

There are three steps you can take before applying for a job as a clinical documentation improvement (CDI) specialist to increase your chances of success.

1. Learn as much as you can
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.

When Shiloh A. Williams, MSN, RN, CCDS, CDI, specialist (now CDI program manager) at El Centro Regional Medical Center in Holtville, California, initially applied for a CDI position, she was a nurse but knew nothing about CDI, coding, or the revenue cycle. Before her interview she researched the field and became familiar with DRGs, codes, and common diagnoses. Her research, coupled with her clinical knowledge, won her the position.

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-10 codes
  • How to read a medical record and research a chart
  • Hospital quality initiatives


2. Network with current professionals
Reach out to local professional associations, such as ACDIS. Call or email the local chapter leadership to 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.”


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.

“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 types of professionals, from providers to coders, so you can get things done.”


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About the Author

Rebecca Hendren
Rebecca Hendren is the Associate Director of Membership and Product Development for the Association of Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialists (ACDIS), a more than 5,000-member association headquartered in Middleton, Massachusetts, dedicated to the unique needs of the CDI profession. She oversees product research and development and works with national and local ACDIS chapter membership. Hendren also oversees ACDIS editorial content and the CCDS certification process. She is a former product manager at HCPro, where she managed the accreditation, patient safety, nursing, and hospital safety markets. She can be reached at [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Becoming a CDIS: 3 Steps to Take Before You Apply for the Job

  1. Paul Evans - July 13, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    I congratulate Ms. Williams for this accomplishment. What strikes me as concerning in the CDI industry today is that an RN with no CDI experience in the profession at all is hired, while I, an RHIA, CCDS, CCS, CCS-P with decades of experience, and JATA-Certified, will not be offered an interview.

    • Libman Education - July 18, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      Paul, yes, a nursing degree is often listed as a preferred field in job postings and sometimes required. Since you mentioned getting an interview was the issue. Experts suggest you start with the application itself. As you know, there is normally a question on the application about how your background fits you for this job. One suggestion that experts make is to work your way through the job description and person specification provided as part of the application pack to show exactly how you satisfy each of the skills, aptitudes or competencies required, with examples to back up any claims you make. Outline the special qualities, aptitudes or abilities that you have.

      There is also an interesting report provided by AHIMA (Clinical Documentation Improvement Job Description: Summative Report) that may give you some insights into what job descriptions are actually requiring for the CDI job role. In this report, 28% of the job descriptions reviewed indicated a preference for the Nursing field while 26% showed HIM as the preferred field. An additional 22% (21) indicated either nursing or HIM as a preference.

      — Sandy Macica, Director of Educational Content for Libman Education