Why CDI Credentials Matter to HIM Employers

There’s not a job seeker alive who doesn’t want to make their job application or resume stand out. Back in the early aughts, Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde” did this by printing her resume on pink paper and adding a spritz of perfume. But for professionals who aren’t trapped in a Hollywood rom-com, the smarter approach involves good old-fashioned due diligence, hard work, and, ideally, earning a gold-standard industry certification. For health information management (HIM) professionals applying for competitive clinical documentation improvement roles, this likely means getting AHIMA’s Clinical Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP) credential.

In the world of CDI, there are credentials beyond the typical RN and RHIA that employers look for: the CCS and CDIP, the latter of which requires candidates to have experience in CDI before sitting for the exam and requires continuing education credits to maintain.

Teresa Evers, RHIA, RN, CDIP, CCS, who has worked in clinical nursing for 30 years and CDI for five, said she chose the CDIP over the CCDS by carefully reviewing the requirements and the domains where each would be more useful in her daily work. Among other attributes, she felt that the CDIP seemed geared toward CDI professionals with management or leadership aspirations.

“But also the different facets of CDI like safety and quality and the matrix of how all of that fits together,” Evers says, noting that the CDIP applied a lot of the concepts related to concurrent review, which is an area of CDI where Evers spends a lot of time. “From taking my RHIA exam, and doing reviews online on the two programs, the CDIP program was more well-rounded for what a CDI specialist’s capabilities are.”

Evers says getting a CDI credential was important to her because regardless of which part of healthcare she works in, she wants to be as qualified as she can possibly be—according to standards driven by the facility she works in, as well as national standards for the profession. Additionally, when she helped colleagues screen applicants for CDI roles, she saw how those with a credential had an automatic edge. She knows from having taken the credentialing exam that anyone who passes it is a critical thinker and has a bigger picture perspective about where CDI fits in the revenue cycle.

Irina Zusman, RHIA, CCS, CCDS, director of HIM, coding, and CDI initiatives at New York University Langone Health, says a CDI credential isn’t required to be hired in her facility, but it’s definitely encouraged of new hires. Like Evers, she believes a credential demonstrates an applicant’s proficiency in CDI.

“When I’m hiring someone new, either coding background or CDI background, I want to somehow assess—through the extent that the interview allows me to do it—the person’s critical thinking ability, his or her communication skills. I cannot teach critical thinking. Either you have it or you don’t have it. Communication skills can be developed but only if a person has a predisposition to communicate well. As you know in CDI it’s very important that you be able to explain your point of view without seeming too pushy,” Zusman says.

It’s not uncommon to find CDI professionals with CDI credentials, especially if they work in a management or leadership capacity. Carrie Willmer, BS, BSN, RN, CCDS, CDIP, CDI compliance and data manager at SCL Health System, says one of the reasons she got credentials is because she’s a stereotypical “overachiever.” But Wilmer says she was drawn to the CDIP when she started pursuing more leadership roles. Now that she’s in a position to hire CDI professionals, she sees the additional CDI credentials as setting candidates apart from each other. She says it’s common to see credentialed CDI professionals, but by no means is it standard—or a given—yet.

“We do receive several applicants that have CDI experience that do not have that credential for any variety of reasons. When those resumes come through, it does make us pause and say “I wonder why they haven’t pursued it, and it’s one interview question we use—to inquire about their desire or plan for obtaining it in the future or not…in our initial screening it does help candidates stand out,” Wilmer says.

For others in hiring roles, a credential goes a long way in demonstrating an individual’s commitment to their career, especially since many CDI professionals pay for the exam, exam prep, and continuing education credits out of pocket, without reimbursement by their employers.

“For me, what an additional credential does is speak to me about the employee’s interest and willingness to make it a career. Not just a stopping point. When you get a credential that speaks to your area of expertise,” says Deirdre LeBlanc, RHIA, vice president of HIM, Parkland Health and Hospital System. “I can hire an RHIA to do coding, but if they also have obtained their CCS, for example, they’ve made coding an area of specialized interest and it shows they are willing and interested in furthering their education along with commitments required to maintain these new credentials. That speaks to the interest of the individual to improve and grow their career through continuous learning.”

Mary Butler is associate editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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