Four Steps to Become a Medical Coder

By David Berky
CIO, Find A Code, LLC

If you've always wanted to be involved in the health care industry but you would rather explore the more clerical aspects instead of the more clinical (administering shots or taking part in the operating room), a career in medical clerical work might be just what you're after. Medical coding and billing are the lifeblood of the health care industry. Without these dedicated professionals to navigate the bureaucracy and financial needs of the medical industry, doctors and nurses simply wouldn't be able to perform their duties in an efficient manner.

Assuming that you are starting from square one, here's a step by step path to becoming a medical coder:

1. Attain Certification

Education is the first step on the road to a career as a medical coder. Start by looking for classes in your area. You can either look into a coding certificate program, or getting an associate degree in the field. Your options will vary depending on what's available where you live. You should be able to find a technical school or a trade school where you can learn the necessary skills. Many of these schools even offer classes online, so you may well be able to attain certification without so much as leaving home. Given that the job consists of clerical work, there's not much that you can learn in the classroom that you can't learn from the comfort of a home office.

2. On the Job Experience

Ultimately, you're going to take the CPC exam to become a fully licensed professional, but in most states, you can't take that exam until you've already gotten a couple of years experience in the field. Some of the better schools offer some great programs for finding internships and entry level positions in medical coding. If your school isn't one of these, then you'll have to browse the classifieds yourself to find medical coding work.

3. Registering for the Exam

After putting in your two years work experience, you should know for sure whether or not it's the job for you and you'll be ready to take the exam if you're still passionate about the field. If you go to the AAPC website, you should be able to find the exam registry through the "Locate Exam" link. You'll find a drop down menu listing each state. Find yours and hit search and from there you need only choose a location and date to take the test. Fill out the application, pay the fee and you'll be on your way.

4. Taking the Exam

All that's left is taking the exam. Make sure to show up on time and well prepared. The CPC exam typically takes up to six hours and involves 150 multiple choice questions.

Study Material

The main thing you're going to be studying is the ICD-10. The ICD-10 is the tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, written and compiled by the World Health Organization and released in 1992. The ICD-10 contains some 16,000 codes with a tiered, multilevel approach.

It sounds imposing, but the WHO makes it relatively easy to study the ICD with a number of resources like online training support and study guides.

Remember that you're not under the gun to complete your study of the ICD-10, and what you're intending to learn is not so much a memorization of the entire database but an understanding thereof. Clerical professionals are valued for their efficiency and their ability to deal with the red tape and data processing that must be taken care of in a medical setting, not for their sheer memorization skills.

In any event, you have years to study and to determine whether or not medical billing and coding is the right career path for you.

David Berky is CIO of Find A Code, LLC. For more information about ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and medical coding and billing please visit where you will find the ICD-10 code sets and the current ICD-9-CM, CPT, and HCPCS code sets plus a wealth of additional information related to medical billing and coding.

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