So you want to become a medical coder—after all, it’s a growing career that would let you enter the highly respected medical field. More importantly, it would let you be a great example for your family and feel empowered through a meaningful career in the healthcare industry. And even more appealing is the fact that you don’t need to spend years in school before launching a medical coding career.
However, as you’ve likely learned in your research, the process of how to become a medical coder is sometimes hazy and can be downright confusing. But navigating the waters of a new career doesn’t need to be overwhelming. This is where we come in to help.
We broke down the entire process into five simple steps. Follow along to see how simple it can be—and see if it inspires a change in you.
Steps to becoming a medical coder
Medical coders play an important role in the healthcare system. Whenever you have a doctor’s appointment, the doctor or nurse makes notes on what was done or diagnosed. Using their knowledge of thousands of medical codes, payment policies and government regulations, medical coders take medical records and code them for billing and insurance purposes.
Without them, the medical field wouldn’t know what to charge for each procedure, and insurance companies wouldn’t be able to cover your care properly. As you can imagine, with all the doctors’ appointments and hospital visits each day, medical coders are an essential part of the healthcare team providing patients with the best experience possible.
Now that you know a little more about what the position, read ahead to learn how you can become one.
Step 1: Covering the prerequisites
First thing’s first: To become a medical coder, you will need your high school diploma or equivalent. You also will need to pass a background check. Applicants with a criminal history involving drug offenses or sexual crimes will most likely be turned away.
Step 2: Enroll in a medical coding program
Next, you’ll need to enroll in a program. There are no formal education requirements to become a medical coder, but concerns about accurate coding are pushing employers to hire graduates of Medical Coding programs.
Many programs take 18–24 months. Some can be completed even sooner. You’ll want to do your research and find one that fits your needs. Do you need flexible scheduling? A quicker time to graduation? Options to take courses online? These will all be worth considering in your search.
Step 3: Graduate
Next step—graduate! But some things are easier said than done. With hard work and plenty of study sessions, you’ll be sure to get as much out of your studies as possible.
While enrolled in a program, you can expect your Medical Coding courses to cover medical terminology, health information laws, ICD-10 codes and anatomy among other interesting areas of study. You may even have an internship or virtual practicum to gain hands-on experience before you don a cap and gown.
Step 4: Obtain your medical coding certification
As a graduate of a Medical Coding Certificate program, you should feel pretty proud. It’s an accomplishment. But your hard work isn’t over yet. The next step is getting certified.
Gaining your medical coding certification shows employers you’re a serious and dedicated coder. Common certifications, such as the American Health Information Management Association’s Certified Coding Associate and Certified Coding Specialist designations can help you stick out from other applicants.
As you advance in your career, you may also pursue a Medical Coding certification within a specialty field. For example, you could choose to specialize in ambulatory care, family practice or internal medicine. The choice to specialize is ultimately yours, and you can be sure that there will be a certification option for whichever path you decide to pursue.
Step 5: Find a job
The next step to becoming a medical coder is to land your first job. The medical coding occupation is growing at a much faster than average rate, with employment of medical coders projected to grow 15 percent by 2024. That’s great news to a job seeker like yourself!
When you’re looking for medical coding jobs, keep in mind the type of environment you’d like to work in. Would you prefer the bustle of a busy hospital or the relative serenity of a physician’s clinic? Or perhaps you’d prefer to work from home? You have plenty of options for a medical coding career.
If it’s been a while since you applied to a new job, getting back in the game can be tricky. Make sure to brush up your resume with your newly acquired education and credentials. Practice answering interview questions and be ready to explain the skills you have that would make a good medical coder—including attention to detail, an analytical mindset and an unparalleled sense of integrity.
The last step: Loving your career
The final and most important step to become a medical coder is to love your career. Join the ranks of the medical field in a thriving occupation and feel the ultimate satisfaction of a career that allows you to help others.
Learn more about what you can expect in this field and the types of locations medical coders are needed in our article, “Where Do Medical Coders Work? 7 Settings that Might Surprise You”.