Your 5-Step Guide to Become a Medical Coder

Guide to become a medical coder

You’re interested in capitalizing on the promising growth in the healthcare industry, but you’re not interested in providing direct patient care. It’s no surprise you’re interested in becoming a medical coder.

Medical coders play an important role in the healthcare ecosystem, helping process and organize the massive amounts of medical data produced every day. You’re intrigued by the behind-the-scenes nature of the position and feel like you’d enjoy the daily duties that come with it.

Now you need to gain a better understanding of the road ahead. We’ve compiled a variety of important information to break down the process and provide you a guide on how to become a medical coder.

How to become a medical coder: 5 straightforward steps

Medical coders play an important role in the healthcare system. Whenever you have a doctor’s appointment, the physician or nurse records notes about what procedures took place or what was 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. Now that you know a little more about what the position, read ahead to learn how you can become one.

Step 1. Meet the basic prerequisites

First thing’s first: To become a medical coder, you will need a 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: Complete medical coding training

Next, you’ll need to start training. There are no formal education requirements to become a medical coder. Most employers are seeking candidates with a postsecondary certificate, with some requiring an Associate’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1

Earning a Medical Coding Certificate is a smart step for those who want to enter the field with a solid foundation of knowledge. Some programs, like the one at Rasmussen University, can be completed in as few as 9 months.2 Here’s a taste of some of the courses students take:

Medical coding courses:

  • Coding Foundations
  • ICD-CM Coding
  • ICD-PCS Coding
  • Ambulatory Care Coding
  • Revenue Cycle and Billing

Gaining practical training and a solid understanding of the field will allow you to hit the ground running as soon as you land your first medical coding job. You can even complete your medical coding training online so you can fit it into your already busy schedule.

Step 3: Obtain your medical coding certification

Graduating from a Medical Coding Certificate program is an impressive accomplishment. But your work isn’t quite over yet. The next step is getting certified.

This credential shows employers you’re a dedicated medical coder who has demonstrated all of the important skills required to succeed on the job. The choice to specialize is ultimately yours, but the BLS states that it can have a positive impact on your job prospects.1

There are a few certifications for medical coders to choose from.

Common medical coding certificates:

Once you gain some experience in the field, you may decide you’d like to specialize your coding career. If so, you might consider pursuing specialty medical coding certification in an area such as ambulatory care, anesthesia, family practice, general surgery or many others.

Step 4: Brush up on in-demand medical coding skills

Before you start applying for medical coding jobs, it’s helpful to know exactly what employers are looking for so you can be prepared and put your best foot forward. Being a medical coder requires a balance of hard and soft skills.

We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 30,000 medical coding jobs posted over the past year.3 This data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking in medical coder candidates. Here’s what we found.

Top technical skills for medical coders3:

  • Health information technology (HIT)
  • ICD-10
  • CPT coding
  • Inpatient coding
  • Customer billing
  • Anatomy
  • Outpatient coding
  • Physiology
  • HCPCS coding
  • Medical terminology

This list may seem intimidating at first glance, but rest assured that these are precisely the types of skills taught in a Medical Coding Certificate program. But in addition to this technical training, there are some soft skills that help medical coders succeed.

Top transferable skills for medical coders3:

  • Communication
  • Computer literacy
  • Collaboration
  • Research
  • Microsoft Office
  • Attention to detail
  • Organization

If you can identify with some of the traits above, you may be a natural fit for the field. Your medical coding training will help you round out your skills so you’re prepped for success.

Step 5: Find a job

The next step to becoming a medical coder is to land your first job. The BLS projects medical coding jobs to increase 11 percent through 2028.1 This is more than twice the average for all occupations. This is great news for 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? You have plenty of options for a medical coding career. Once you get your foot in the door and start gaining experience, you can begin considering future advancement opportunities.

Take the first step toward becoming a medical coder

Now that you’re more familiar with the path to becoming a medical coder, why wait? There’s no better time than now to join the ranks of the growing medical field and feel the ultimate satisfaction of a career that allows you to help others.

Learn more about the career and the training ahead by visiting our Medical Billing and Coding program page.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed February 2020]. This represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Time to completion is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter. (analysis of 29,571 medical coder jobs posted, Mar. 01, 2019 – Feb. 29, 2020).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

About the author

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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