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How to Become a Medical Coder

Three Methods:Training to Become A Medical CoderFinding Employment as a Medical CoderBecoming a Certified Medical Coder

Medical coders or medical coding specialists go through detailed information about patient injuries, diseases and procedures from medical records and documents provided by doctors and other healthcare providers. They then assign codes for the information based on an official, universally used coding system. These medical codes are often used to reimburse claims by hospitals and their physicians for insurance purposes. Having at least an associate's degree and a credential in coding are preferred qualifications for this profession.

Method 1
Training to Become A Medical Coder

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    Get a high school diploma. Graduating from high school is the only educational requirement to become a medical coder.[1] Courses in high school algebra, biology, chemistry, typing, and other computer skills can be helpful in your medical coding career. You should also have a good understanding of anatomy, physiology, and medical terms.[2]
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    Consider getting a college degree. Although they are not required, having an associate or bachelor's degree will help your career as a medical coder.[3] An associates degree typically takes 2 years to complete, and a bachelor's degree typically takes 4 years to complete. A college degree will provide with more opportunities for advancement and growth in the field.
    • Consider getting a degree in health information technology or health care administration. A degree program will include general education classes in addition to medical coding specific courses
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    Choose a medical coding program. Many community colleges offer associate degrees in medical coding or medical coding certificates. Classes may be in person, online, or a combination.[4] Make sure you enroll in a school that is accredited by either the American Health Information Management Association[5] (AHIMA) or the American Academy of Professional Coders[6] (AAPC). Both of these organizations maintain a list of accredited programs on their websites.
    • Ask the school about their pass rate on medical coder certification exams and the career placement services they offer.
    • If you have plans to attend a four year institution later on you should enroll in an associate's degree program instead of a certificate program. You should also clarify which courses you will be able to transfer to another school.
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    Be aware of for-profit colleges and career programs. For-profit colleges offer medical coding training as well and often cater to the needs of older students and students who also work full time jobs. These schools are often more expensive than local community colleges. These schools also have less student support services and career placement services. Some of these schools also present misleading information about their accreditation status [7]
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    Join a professional organization. Professional organizations are a great way to learn about the field, network with other medical coders, find information about career opportunities, and and stay up to date on new developments in the field. These organizations also have local chapters throughout the United States. The American Health Information Management Association[8] (AHIMA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders[9] (AAPC) are the main professional organizations for medical coders.

Method 2
Finding Employment as a Medical Coder

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    Start your job search early. You should not wait until you have finished school to start looking for a job. Take advantage of the career placement services that your school offers.
    • Internships are another way to get experience and make connections. Many internships are unpaid, so you may want to intern while you are still in school.
    • Volunteering at a place that you would like to work or asking to job shadow an experienced medical coder can help you gain experience and network.[10]
    • Update your resume before you start looking and have someone give you feedback.
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    Consider alternate routes. If you are unable to find a job as a medical coder, you can always look for other options in the medical field to get your foot in the door. Consider working at a front desk or in the medical records department. Your training as a medical coder makes you a good candidate for these positions. You can ask the doctors, nurses and other people you meet about any open medical coding positions.[11]
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    Check in with your professional organization. The AHIMA and AAPC are great sources for jobs. The AAPC has a job forum[12] and program that helps newly certified coders find employment.[13] You must be a member of AAPC to get full access to these resources.
    • The AHIMA offers career prep webinars[14], a career prep workbook[15], and a list of open positions.[16]
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    Use career search engines. Medical coder jobs can be found on general job search sites such as Monster[17] and CareerBuilder[18] or healthcare specific websites such as Health Career Web[19], Biohealthmatics[20], and HealthJobs Nationwide[21]
    • Although hundreds of jobs are posted on these websites, do not underestimate the power of networking and word of mouth. Let people you know that you are looking for a medical coding job. These large search engines should not be the only method you use to find a job.
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    Prepare for the interview. You should prepare for your job interview by researching the company and being prepared to answer questions about your training and experience. You should also demonstrate how your skills would benefit the company and why you want to work there.[22]
    • You may be tested on medical terminology, electronic medical records, claims processing, and and coding software that you are familiar with.[23]
    • If you are not already certified, discuss any plans you have to become certified and your career goals.
    • Give a firm handshake, make eye contact,and dress professionally (i.e. dress pants or skirt, blazers, suits, dress shirt or blouse) for your interview.
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    Be prepared to take an assessment test. Some potential employers may require you to take a skills assessment. There is no standardized test that all companies use. The skills test will test your speed, accuracy, attention to detail, and your ability to assign the proper codes. [24]
    • You should ask how long the test will take and if you need to bring your own coding books.

Method 3
Becoming a Certified Medical Coder

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    Consider becoming certified. Certification is not required for medical coders. However, having a certification is beneficial for your career. A certification will let your employer know that you have a certain level of proficiency and knowledge.[25]
    • Certified medical coders have more opportunities for career advancement, higher salaries, and more employment choices. Certified coders typically make 20% more than non-certified coders.[26]
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    Decide which exam to sit for. Both the AAPC and the AHIMA offer certifications. Deciding which exam you will take will help you prepare for the exam. Both of the certifications are nationally recognized.
    • The AAPC offers multiple certifications including Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Outpatient Coding (COC), Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC), Certified Risk Adjustment Coder(CRC), Certified Professional Coder-Payer(CPC-P), and specialty certifications for certain practice areas.[27] You need to have two years of experience to become fully certified. If you do not have two years of experience, your certification will be considered apprentice status.
    • The AHIMA offers m the Certified Coding Associate(CCA), Certified Coding Specialist(CCS) and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based(CCS-P). They do not offer an apprenticeship status certification like the AAPC. The AHIMA recommends that you have 6 months of coding experience, have completed an AHIMA approved program, or completed another coding program before sitting for the exam.[28]
    • You should consider if you would like to work in a hospital setting, physician's office, or a specialty practice to help you decide which certification is right for you.
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    Prepare for the exam. Attending an accredited program and actual work experience as a medical coder will help you do well on your exam. The AHIMA and AAPC have study guides and online exam preparation resources. They offer discounts on exam training materials if you are member of the organization. Both organizations offer in person exam prep as well.[29][30]
    • People who take prep courses are more likely to pass the exam.
    • Talking with people who have passed the exam before is another way to help prepare you for your exam. They may also have study materials that you can use.
    • You may have to join the organization to take the exam.
    • Be prepared to pay an exam fee and submit your transcripts and resume if required.
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    Maintain your credential status. After you have passed your certification exam, you are required to participate in continuing education to stay certified. The amount of Continuing Education Units(CEUs) depends upon which certification you have received. Check with your accrediting organization so you are clear about the requirements.
    • For the AHIMA, the CCA, CCS, and CCS-P, you are required to have 20 CEUs during your two year recertification cycle.[31]
    • The AAPC requires 36 CEUs for one certification.[32]
    • You should take advantage of any on-the-job training offered in your workplace. These often count towards your CEUs.
    • Other activities beyond getting CEUs may be required to maintain your credentialed status as well.


  • Get a bachelor's degree or higher to help advance your medical coding career. You may also be able to get an advanced credential in your specialty.
  • Vocational or adult education schools in your area may also offer classes to begin a career in medical coding.
  • Specialty areas you can get a credential for include Anesthesiology, Cardiology, General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, and Urology.
  • You can also get a credential to be a Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) from the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA).

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Categories: Health Care