Lives Enhanced by Coding

By Michelle A. Dick

We’ve all had it—the moment when we’re faced with that instant, unknown opportunity. It usually comes in the depths of crisis, despair, or monotony; and, we can only step into it with trust and courage. Here at AAPC we often hear about someone whose life changed because of becoming a coder and, subsequently, certified. Here are some of those life-changing stories.

Betty Bush, CPC-A

In August 2008, just three days before my 59th birthday, my employer of 20 years handed me a severance letter explaining that my position had been eliminated. I had not seen it coming, and was completely devastated.

Medical BIlling and Coding Jobs

The following weeks were a blur of every emotion imaginable—with one dominating thought, “What am I going to do now?” My work experience was in sales and marketing for home building products. Finding a job in that industry was a very slim possibility given the horrible economic state it was in. I didn’t think my teaching degree would help me either. My state was cutting positions in education—not adding them. And I was sure my age was going to make finding a job even more difficult.

I spent that fall updating my resume—a daunting task since I hadn’t looked at it in 20 years. I then spent three months searching job postings and sending out resumes with no results. It was then I decided to train myself in a new industry: health care. I needed to accomplish that in as short amount of time as possible. A nursing degree would take too long given my age—even a two-year certificate for a technician type position would not work. That’s when I found AAPC.

I started by networking through local chapters, sending emails to officers from Charlotte to Raleigh, N.C. I lucked out when one of those emails reached National Advisory Board (NAB) Member Relations officer Julia Croly, CPC. We emailed back and forth, and I soon ended up in her office for a face-to-face meeting to learn what medical coding was all about. Frankly, I was surprised that she made time for a total stranger. But we had a great meeting and I left excited about coding and what it could mean for my future.

From there, I just followed AAPC recommendations. I started slowly with medical terminology. I figured if I couldn’t handle the “language” there would be no need to go further. But I loved learning the words, and many times said a quiet prayer of thanks to my third grade phonics teacher for doing such a good job. Next was anatomy. This was much more of a challenge, but I now know where everything is, so to speak.

The actual coding course was next. Although somewhat overwhelming at first, I followed the AAPC course module layout one by one and was able to finish the course successfully. In preparation for the certification exam, one of our local chapters gave a review on a Saturday that helped me tremendously. I passed the exam on my first attempt that December.

My path to employment was a bit different. I started volunteering at a large hospital in my state (North Carolina) in July. Luckily, that volunteer experience networked into a full-time job in January 2010. It is not a coding position yet, but when the clinic interviewed me in early December, I told them about the courses at AAPC and that I hoped to be certified by the end of the year. Once I was hired, my supervisor said they plan to train me as backup for the person currently doing billing/coding for the clinic.

It has truly been an amazing journey. I am proud of my accomplishment and know that with my CPC® credential, I now have something of value in an industry with boundless opportunity.

Jacqueline J. Stack, AAB, CPC, CPC-I, CEMC, CFPC, CIMC, CPEDC, CCP-P

My health care career started just before I graduated from high school. I applied at our local hospital for a position in the registration department. I was fortunate to work that job for 13 years before leaving. Following that, I worked as a receptionist in a small physician office. Later, I worked as a medical transcriptionist. Ultimately, I went back to the original physician office where I worked at the front desk and helped with billing.

In 2004, the small physician practice Seneca Medical Center, LLC (SMC) offered me a biller/coder position. One of the requirements of the job was to become a certified coder. In 2005, after studying for the CPC® exam, I took the test and passed it. At that time, I did not understand much about AAPC, but I soon found this to be the turning point in my life … Shortly after becoming a CPC®, opportunities to better myself and my career were within my grasp.

I began attending local chapter meetings in my area. I soon learned that attending local chapter meetings offered many benefits. Attending meetings afforded me the opportunity to make friends, gain knowledge from their experiences, and share my experience and knowledge with others. I became secretary/treasurer in 2006, moved onto president-elect, and served as president in 2009.

In 2005, I began attending national AAPC conferences. These conferences are a great place to gain knowledge as well as create a network of fellow coders.

Not satisfied with status quo, I tested and passed several specialty exams; took the PMCC instructor certification; served on the committees to develop the internal medicine and pediatric specialty exams; and in 2007, I went to college.

I attend the University of Phoenix online and plan to graduate in 2011 with a bachelor of science in health administration. I also teach part time at our local university, write articles for magazines, and speak at workshops, local chapter meetings, and conferences. I serve on the AAPC NAB as well.

I still work at SMC, which has grown into a large family practice specializing in occupational health. SMC also has their own hospitalist program and sees patients at many of the local nursing homes. The billing department now consists of five staff members. I do the billing, coding, and physician educating, and I am also the compliance officer.

Becoming a certified coder and joining the AAPC has provided me with many life-changing opportunities. My mentor, another local AAPC member, continues to inspire me. AAPC provides the opportunity to do the things I love: learn, share my knowledge, and help others succeed.

Shelly Ghrist, CPC

Several years ago, I was managing a local Dollar Tree store and was miserable. Spending so many hours away from my family was making me very unhappy. After 10 years—though I really enjoyed what I was doing—the physical demands of the job and the long hours had taken a toll on me. One day at work, my assistant manager handed me a schedule of classes for returning adult students at the local campus—it was opened to the medical coding course. I looked at it for a few minutes, laid it aside, and went back to work. I took the paper home with me that evening and told my husband about it. He looked at it and said, “So, what are you waiting for?” The next day I called and registered.

I started the classes and was totally overwhelmed. The first class I took was medical terminology and I was sure I would never remember any of those words. I met some wonderful people at that first class, however, and together we made it through. I discovered that I was really enjoying myself. I then moved on to the anatomy class and those same people were there. We again helped each other through the complexities of anatomy. The next class was coding with Rhonda Buckholtz, CPC, CPC-I, CENTC, CGSC, COBGC, CPEDC. This class was six hours on a Saturday.

At this point, my district manager at Dollar Tree decided that I had to make a choice between the class and work. I made the choice to continue the class.

After I completed the coding class, Rhonda offered me a position where she was working. After three years with that employer, I did consulting work for a physician for whom I had been working off and on for about two years. What I really wanted to do, however, was start my own billing company. After a few weeks, I received a call from the physician saying that he was in need of a new billing manager. He knew I wanted to start my own business and we discussed some options. He agreed to contract me as a billing company starting Jan. 1. I made a leap of faith and started Ghrist Billing and Consulting, LLC.

I now work from home and visit the physician’s office once a week to take care of any issues—and I am in negotiations with two other physicians. The dream of owning my own billing company is now a reality and I love every minute of it.

Once the opportunity pans out, what happens next?

Getting where you want to be career-wise does not happen overnight. There are many opportunities for advancement in the coding field, but to get where you want to be later on down the road, you may have to veer off course. Deborah Grider, CPC, CPC-I, CPC-H, CPC-P, CPMA, CEMC, COBGC, CPCD, CCS-P, knows this firsthand. “I have taken salary cuts for the opportunity to advance my skills … Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a giant leap forward—take baby steps, pay your dues,” Grider said.

“No matter where your career is right now, there are a lot of ways to take the next step,” said Marcella Bucknam, CPC, CCS-P, CPC-H, CCS, CPC-P, CPC-I, CCC, COBGC, keynote speaker at AAPC 2006 National Conference, St. Louis. “The key is to challenge yourself to find the things you do best—networking, education, research, compliance, contributing to articles, public speaking, chapter leadership, and participating in project groups.”

As coding professionals, “We’re lucky to have a career field where there are so many different career options that suit different personalities—capitalize on your strengths and the sky’s the limit,” said Bucknam. “Look for the opportunities presented to you. Those opportunities may be the turning point you were looking for in your life”.


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