How to Become a Medical Coder

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5 Steps to Becoming a Medical Coder

Step 1 Make sure your basics are covered.

Gather your prerequisite documents and paperwork, which generally includes a high school diploma or its equivalent. You'll also likely to have to submit to a background check. Be warned that a drug- or sex-related conviction might preclude you from working in the industry.

Step 2 Apply for and enroll in an academic program.

Some medical coders have bachelor's and even master's degrees, but they aren't necessary. In fact, no formal education is required to become a medical coder. The likeliest path to a career in medical coding is through the completion of a career-specific program. Most of these programs can be wrapped up in 18 months or two years — less in many cases.

Step 3 Complete your program.

No matter what program you enroll in, you'll be expected to understand not just the language and procedures of coding, but also basic medical terminology, anatomy and physiology. You'll be up to speed on health information laws and regulations, and you might participate in a practicum or internship before graduation.

Step 4 Achieve certification.

For prospective coders, specialized certification is like a graduate degree — it provides you with added expertise and demonstrates a level of competency and dedication that can make you stand out from the crowd to prospective employers. Specialty certifications include certified professional coder (CPC), certified outpatient coder (COC), certified risk adjustment coder (CRC) and certified inpatient coder (CIC).

Step 5 Get to work!

The last step is the keystone event in your journey — landing a job. But first, you need to decide what kind of environment you want to work in. Do you prefer the frantic pace of a hospital, the steadier flow of a doctor's office or even the comfort of your own home? Answer these questions before you begin your job hunt.

FAQ on Becoming a Medical Coder

  • Nearly every single health care provider uses coded documentation and records. A single hospital may have 50 coders working at any given time — but hospitals are just one of the potential work environments. Inpatient and outpatient facilities, urgent and semi-urgent care facilities, clinics, nursing homes, sports medicine offices, mental health facilities and, of course, doctor’s offices are just a few of the places where well-trained, reliable coders can find a career.

  • General career networks like LinkedIn and Indeed.com list job openings specific to medical coders. But you should also check out industry-specific sites, like the American Association of Professional Coders, which lists a huge selection of jobs.

  • Just as with any interview, you should start by doing your homework and learning as much as you can about the facility or organization you're hoping to join. You should also prepare some questions of your own for the interviewer. Not only will this provide you with the answers you're looking for, but asking questions demonstrates genuine interest in your prospective employer and shows that you have a thoughtful, inquisitive nature. Also, you should expect to be asked to move beyond book learning and participate in what-would-you-do-if hypothetical scenarios.

  • Yes! Many organizations allow or even encourage telecommuting. Working from home can make the job easier for you and cheaper for your employer, all without sacrificing quality or precision, thanks to advancements like collaborative workflow programs, application-based software and videoconferencing. Flexjobs.com lists hundreds of coding jobs, many of which can be done in the comfort of your own home.

  • Medical coders — as well as the people and groups that hire, educate, certify and advise them — are organized into trade associations, academies, industry organizations, forums and networking groups. Some of the most prominent and reputable among them are explored further down the page.

Medical Coder Salary & Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for what it broadly refers to as "medical records and health information technicians" is $39,180. If you're paid by the hour, salary site PayScale lists the median wage as $17.22 an hour. Glassdoor, another salary research site, lists the average annual salary for medical coders at $38,678.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $35,450
Currently Employed: 2,700
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14.70%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $54,170
Currently Employed: 680
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13.10%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $40,540
Currently Employed: 5,900
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21.70%
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $34,010
Currently Employed: 1,840
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 17.20%
California Mean wage annual: $50,260
Currently Employed: 21,900
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.60%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $49,040
Currently Employed: 2,910
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 32.10%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $48,330
Currently Employed: 1,900
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $44,100
Currently Employed: 530
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13.20%
Florida Mean wage annual: $40,980
Currently Employed: 12,460
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23.70%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $39,410
Currently Employed: 5,770
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22.60%
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The enormous baby boomer generation is aging rapidly and living much longer than their predecessors. That reality is fueling massive growth in the health care industry in general — and medical coders are no exception. According to BLS, the demand for coders is expected to grow by a full 16 percent between 2016 and 2026. That's much higher than the projected growth in the general job market. Professionals with computer skills and specialities in areas like health information are likely to be in especially high demand.

Finding a Medical Coder Program

Like any educational pursuit, there is no one-size-fits-all program for medical coder education. Factors like the length of the program, how it's delivered, cost and the culminating license, degree or certification will all factor into your decision.

Every state in America hosts a network of community colleges — and this can be a great option for many prospective medical coders. Community college programs are usually wrapped up in two semesters for full-time students, and generally require the completion of 11-19 credits. Programs like these can be comparatively cheap — less than $1,000 total in many cases. The cost of required course materials however, can add up quickly — sometimes costing more than tuition itself. One way to mitigate that expense while also allowing far more flexibility is through online study. Distance learners can complete a medical coding course in 10 months — and in many cases they can do it for less than $800. Another benefit of web-based instruction is that the financial burden of classroom materials is often significantly less than it would be with traditional, face-to-face instruction.

Use this search tool to get started with finding the medical coder program that meets your needs, preferences, career goals, location and budget.

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Medical Records and Health Information Associations & Groups

Trade groups and industry associations offer education, training and certification opportunities, but they also provide a wealth of up-to-date information and news about the profession. You don't have be a working coder to visit these groups. They can help you gain new skills, pursue specializations or simply learn more about the profession.

  • American Association of Professional Coders

    With more than 175,000 members, the AAPC is the world’s largest healthcare training and credentialing agency. It offers its members the widely recognized Certified Professional Coder (CPC) certification across at least 10 of the most popular specialties. It also provides training for those certifications, which the organization claims can double a candidate’s chances of passing the CPC exam.

  • American Health Information Management Association

    AHIMA has several resources both for industry professionals and those who are pondering a career or just starting their education. It offers a variety of certifications, as well as educational materials, training and tutorials regarding those certifications. It also maintains a special section just for student and career services. Prospective coders can find details on how to finance their education, the difference between degrees and certifications, and how to find the right program.

  • Healthcare Billing and Management Association

    With 25 years of history, HBMA is a non-profit trade association that offers education, certification, collaboration and advocacy for health care billing and coding professionals.

  • Medical Group Management Association

    MGMA provides certification and other marks of educational success, benchmarking data and statistics. It also organizes industry events, provides networking opportunities and develops informational materials for industry professionals.

  • The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists

    PAHCS is a network gathering place for coding specialists, and its stated mission is to enhance documentation, compliance and reimbursement capabilities. The network offers certification in nearly 20 different areas.

  • American Academy of Professional Coders

    The AAPC is dedicated solely to physician-based medical coders. Visit to learn about continuing education, training, networking and certification opportunities.

  • American Association of Clinical Coders & Auditors

    AACCA offers certification and training designed to keep professional coders in compliance with government-mandated regulations and up to date with health care industry standards.

Resources for Medical Coders

Whether you're a long-time coder who wants to brush up on your skills or a prospective student looking for the educational program that's just the right fit, you're not alone. There are plenty of groups, organizations, academies and career services designed specifically for coders or those hoping to pursue careers in the field.

  • MedicalBillingAndCoding.org

    Offers a wealth of information about how to get certified once you've finished your education, how to get your foot in the door with an entry-level position, how to prepare for a job interview and more.

  • CertificationCoaching.org

    A variety of tools and resources, including practice exams, exam prep, certification, webinars and discounts on professional and educational tools.

  • Billing-Coding.com

    This forum opens up discussions on a range of topics, including career advice, coding from home, schools and colleges, and general advice.

  • Commision on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management

    Part of the AHIMA network, the Commission on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management is designed specifically for coding professionals who practice HIIM.

  • Explore Health Careers — Medical Coding

    This is a good place to visit before you make any binding decisions about your education. Here you'll find information about the different types of career paths and educational options, as well as a wealth of resources regarding the industry itself and what to expect along the way as you begin your journey toward becoming a medical coder.