Become a Care Coordinator: Education and Career Roadmap
Research the requirements to become a care coordinator. Learn about the job duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a care coordinator.
Care Coordinator Requirements
Care coordinators are also known as health unit coordinators, medical services managers, clinical directors and program managers. They work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, HMOs and other health care facilities. A care coordinator works under the supervision of registered nurses and health information administrators, performing non-medical tasks crucial to patient care. The following table contains some common requirements for becoming a care coordinator:
|Degree Level||High school diploma; some employers prefer related degree or certificate*|
|Degree Fields||Nursing, medical or health care discipline*|
|Experience||0-5 years of experience*|
|Licensure and Certification||Some employers require related certification or nursing license*|
|Key Skills||Math skills, administrative skills, customer service, human resource skills, management skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, deductive reasoning skills**|
|Computer Skills||Medical and scientific software, document management software, electronic mail, database software, classification software**|
|Technical Skills||Scanner, medical knowledge**|
Sources: *Monster.com job postings (January 2013), **O*Net Online
Step 1: Complete a Certificate Program
Care coordinators typically earn a health unit coordinator certificate, which qualifies them to pursue entry-level care coordinator positions. Health unit coordinator certificate programs are open to individuals who hold a high school diploma or GED. Upon entering a certificate program, students study topics like hospital organization and administrative procedures, care coordination ethics and law, pharmacology, medical terms and basic care techniques. Students are usually required to participate in a clinical internship under the supervision of a health care coordinator. It typically takes six months to a year to complete a care coordinator certificate program.
Step 2: Gain Work Experience
Most health care facilities require training or experience as a care coordinator. Aspiring care coordinators can gain experience in the medical field through an internship while in an educational program, or by taking entry-level positions such as a medical receptionist or clerk.
Step 3: Complete an Associate's Degree Program
Medical facilities prefer to hire care coordinators with the most education, training and experience. For this reason, individuals with a care coordinator associate's degree may have an advantage in the job market. Students in health unit coordinator associate's degree programs learn about medical insurance and coding, managed care concepts, information processing and billing procedures. Other topics include areas like health care policies and fiscal management, personnel management and labor relations, nursing home operations, sanitation and patient care. It can take up to two years to earn a health unit coordinator associate's degree. Nursing associate degree programs also often include coursework related to care coordination that may prepare students for careers as nurse managers or health unit coordinators.
- Take advantage of experiential opportunities. Associate's degree programs typically offer clinical practicum opportunities. Through externships and internships, students learn to serve as liaisons between medical staff and patients. They also can learn beneficial skills like how to order supplies, schedule patient activities and coordinate meals.
Step 4: Get Certified or Licensed
While no states require professional certification, most hospitals and health care facilities hire coordinators certified by the National Association of Health Unit Coordinators (NAHUC). According the NAHUC, certification can enhance growth in the health profession and show employers commitment to development in the field (www.nahuc.org). Certified health unit coordinators must complete 36 continuing education hours every three years to maintain their status.
- Consider obtaining a nursing license. Various positions in care coordination require state licensing as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Nurse (RN). Both the LPN and the RN license require successfully passing an exam and meeting requirements through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
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