STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING A MEDICAL CODER
Step One: Postsecondary Education (One to Four Years)
After graduating from high school, aspiring medical coders have three main options for their undergraduate education: a certificate program, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
A certificate program is the quickest route to working in the field, as most take less than a year to complete. These are focused programs of study that cover the basics of disease processes, treatment procedures, terminology, body systems, and basic coding in ICD-10. Students will also gain proficiency in medical office software, billing procedures, and regulatory compliance. The curriculum of these programs is designed to prepare students for immediate employment and to take official credentialing exams.
An associate’s degree in an area like healthcare administration or health information management provides a reliable and adaptable option for aspiring medical coders. In addition to the medical coding basics covered in a certificate program, students receive a well-rounded liberal arts education that improves their writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills. While an associate’s degree takes longer than a certificate to complete (about two years), employers may be more keen to hire applicants with official degrees on their resume. An associate’s degree can also easily be transferred towards a bachelor’s degree program, should graduates decide to pursue further education in the field of healthcare.
A bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or health information management is a longer but more complete path to working in medical coding. In addition to the foundational understanding of medical coding found in certificate programs and on top of the soft skills learned in the associate’s degree, the bachelor’s degree offers exposure to the broader and more nuanced concepts in healthcare management. Graduates learn about human resources, health policy, legislative compliance, data analytics, and project management. Although most bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete, medical coders who choose this route are not only at the top of the hiring list for employers; they are also more likely to take on leadership roles and earn higher salaries.
No matter which pathway one takes to gain their prerequisite education in medical coding, it is essential that the educational institution is accredited. Program-specific accreditation is available through the American Health Informatics Management Association (AHIMA), the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM), and the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC).