How to Become a Medical Coder

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5 Steps to Becoming a Medical Coder

Medical coding is a rapidly-growing field that plays a critical behind-the-scenes role in healthcare. The career requires a detail-oriented approach and specialized technical skillset, and is an ideal profession for those who want to work in non-patient-facing positions within the healthcare industry.

Becoming a medical coder isn’t difficult, but it does require an associate or bachelor’s degree related to science and some credentials. This guide will help you understand the steps to becoming a medical coder, how to find the best medical coding schools and additional training.

Step 1 Postsecondary Education

A post-secondary degree isn’t necessarily required to become a medical coder, but some credentials require that applicants have prerequisite education. You have several options, including a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or certificate program. Your best option may be medical coding school, or an education program specifically designed for those planning to become medical coders.

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Step 2 Basic Credentials

Once you’ve earned your education, you can achieve some basic credentials. Some credentials don’t require any work experience, and you can take the exam by meeting the education requirement. Examples include the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) credential and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential. If you earned an associate degree of a Health Information Management (HIM) program you can register to take the RHIT.

Step 3 Work Experience

Once you’ve earned basic credentials, you’ll be qualified to begin working as a medical coder. There are many job settings to choose from, including hospitals, physician offices, and more. With the rise of remote work, plenty of medical coding can even be done from your home.

Step 4 Advanced Certification

Once you’ve got some work experience under your belt, you can earn more advanced credentials to help further your career. Some higher-level credentials such as the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) and Certified Coding Specialist – Physician-based (CCS-P) require work experience alongside your educational background, so these are perfect to complete once you’re a few years into your career.

Step 5 Career Advancement

Once you’ve earned your advanced certification, you can continue working as a medical coder, taking further steps to advance your career if you choose. Career advancement might include moving into leadership positions like a compliance auditor, manager or consultant. You might also consider pursuing more advanced education.

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.

  • To be certified as a medical coder, you’ll have to pass one of the credentialing exams. Some credentials, such as the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) or Certified Coding Associate (CCA) require work experience or medical coding school before you take the exam. Others, such as the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) don’t have a work requirement but do require an associate’s degree.

  • Depending on the position and employer, a medical coding certificate will help you acquire an entry-level or intermediate level position.These jobs consider a medical coding certificate a core credential. The field is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. And given the affordability of many medical coding programs, you can get an excellent return on your investment.

Medical Coder Salary & Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for medical records and health information specialists is $44,090. Employment in the field is expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029, twice the rate of most occupations.

Whether you plan on moving to attain a job as a medical coder, verifying wages across the U.S. and change in employment for this field will help you plan your path.

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.

Medical Coder Classes

Schooling for medical billing and coding sets the foundation for your career. Here are some of the core classes that help you gain the skills and education necessary to become a medical coder:

Medical Office Procedures

Learn how a healthcare office works, focusing on organization, communication, and compliance.

Skills & Knowledge Gained:

  • Filing procedures
  • Database management
  • Compliance

Diagnostic Coding

Discover how to use coding correctly by applying the International Classification of Diseases 10th Edition, Clinical Modification, also known as ICD-10-CM.

Skills & Knowledge Gained:

  • Enter diagnostic codes correctly
  • Learn how to use coding systems
  • Understand the characteristics of the ICD-10-CM

Anatomy and Human Physiology with Medical Terminology

Often offered as a pair of courses, you’ll learn the medical terms affiliated with different body parts and systems like the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and more.

Skills & Knowledge Gained:

  • Discover how to identify body parts and systems using proper terminology
  • Understand the organization of the body
  • Learn how to use anatomy and medical terminology to enter codes correctly

Medical Billing and Insurance

You’ll learn about all the insurance programs available by private options, government programs like Medicare and worker’s compensation, and how these programs factor into the revenue cycle for health care networks.

Skills & Knowledge Gained:

  • Understand how insurance works relative to billing
  • Apply the codes corresponding to disability or worker’s compensation programs

Current Procedural Codes

In Current Procedural Codes, you’ll discover the basics of coding.

Skills & Knowledge Gained:

  • Learn the HCPCS 11 and CPT manuals
  • Gain an introduction on how coding works

Necessary Medical Coding Certifications

Becoming a certified medical coder will allow you to get a job and learn the skills you need to keep it. There are several certifications you can earn with medical coding:

Certified Professional Coder

To earn full certification, you should have two years of professional experience. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also suggests you have an associate degree. The online exam costs $299, and the in-person test costs $399. You will also need to be a member of the APPC, which costs $180. 

Certified Coding Associate

To take the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) test, you need to have your high school diploma or an equivalent. It is also ideal to have one of the following qualifications:

If you are an AHIMA member, the exam is $199. For non-members, the test fee is $299.

Registered Health Information Technician

To try the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam, you need to have one of the following:

  • Completed an accredited associate degree in Health Information Management
  • Finished a foreign program recognized by the AHIMA
  • The exam costs $229 for members and non-members.

Medical Coding Training and Resources

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.

  • American Association of Professional Coders

    The American Academy of Professional Coders is a resource designed specifically for coders in the healthcare field. The academy offers many different resources for those in medical coding, billing, auditing, practice management, and healthcare compliance.

  • American Medical Association

    The American Medical Association, one of the leading healthcare organizations in the field, offers a variety of resources for medical coders in the form of apps, newsletters, and more.

  • 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.

Finding a Medical Coder School

Like any educational pursuit, there is no one-size-fits-all program for medical coding schools. 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 coding school that meets your needs, preferences, career goals, location and budget.

Take the next step towards your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

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