AAPC Social Hour: The Value of Collecting Certifications
Experts share words of wisdom for finding your first job and dish about how certifications can boost your career.
During a Facebook Live broadcast March 23, moderator and AAPC Social Media Manager Alex McKinley (AAPC Alex) talked to AAPC Documentation Advisory Committee members Melissa Kirshner, CPC, CDEO, CRC, CPC-I, CFPC, AAPC Fellow, and Kelly Shew, CPC, CPCO, CDEO, CPB, CPMA, CPPM, CRC, AAPC Approved Instructor, RHIA, about the committee’s upcoming webinar, Ask & Learn: The ICD-10-CM Guidelines. They also fielded questions about the value of certifications, earning continuing education units (CEUs), and more.
Your Questions Answered
Kirshner is a long-time AAPC member with 37 years of medical coding and billing experience. She is chair of the Documentation Advisory Committee, a virtual instructor-led training (VILT) instructor, president of her AAPC local chapter, which she founded back in 2015, and teaches her own Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) class. “I’m an all around AAPC dork,” Kirshner said with a smile. Shew has 12 years of medical coding and billing experience. She works in risk adjustment, educating providers on documentation and the importance of risk adjustment. In addition to being an approved instructor, she serves as vice president of her local chapter. Here is what they had to say about their committee work, upcoming webinar, and path to a fulfilling career in a field that they are passionate about.
How do all of these certifications help you? Have they specifically helped you in where you’re at now, or are you looking beyond?
“I’ve picked them up along the way,” said Shew. She obtained her CPC® as a way to get into coding, and it was her love of the educational aspect and working with new coders that led her to become an AAPC Approved Instructor. When she started working in risk adjustment, she obtained her Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC®), and when she switched her focus to documentation, that credential followed (CDEO®). “The rest I sought out because of personal interest goals. But what I am doing now, there are pieces of them that really apply to lots of different areas of the job,” Shew explained.
Kirshner agreed, “I use them all for what we do here.” She went on to explain that they advise about 500 physicians of all different specialties, and the knowledge gained from the certifications enables them to jump into practices and help them with billing, coding, and documentation issues. And their background in risk adjustment helps them understand how it will impact their physicians.
Did your pay increase with more certifications?
“Absolutely!” Kirshner exclaimed. “I think that we become more valuable. So every time I’ve picked up a certification, I’ve been able to be more valuable to my boss, my supervisor, my physicians, my colleagues.”
“When I started, I went through a billing and coding program. I was not sure what wanted to be, so got a job as a temp. Then I got my CPC®, and it was a coding job instead of a billing job,” said Shew. She explained how with each step, her salary increased, stating “I feel like it opens more doors because whenever I get one, the position that I have at the time expands to encompass a little bit of that, and then other job opportunities come up. And I think a lot of that had to do with how I met Melissa and got the job that I have now, so yes!”
How do you get all of the CEUs needed to maintain all your certifications?
“I am an AAPC junkie,” said Kirshner. “I attend a lot of chapter meetings, for my chapter and then for my friends’ chapters.” It helps her say on top of what’s going on both in her state and nationwide. Another way she earns CEUs is by attending AAPC’s regional and national conferences. They offer fantastic education that you can tailor to your needs. In fact, “I don’t think I’ve missed a HEALTHCON in eight or nine years,” she told McKinley.
Shew said her chapter is active, holding at least one meeting a month. In addition to attending those meetings, she does a lot of presenting for local chapters. “I also have a webinar subscription, which I originally got because it was a way to get CEUs … but now there are so many questions I get asked by providers and office staff, I find that the webinars are actually a really great resource.”
Do you have any tips for someone who is just starting out?
McKinley, Kirshner, and Shew had the following suggestions:
- Build connections – Join the AAPC Facebook group. There you can interact with students all the way to veteran coders. It’s an amazing place for support and guidance.
- Network with coders in your area – Go to local chapter meetings, where you can network with coders and managers. Be highly involved. Reach out to see if they need help in any way. Local chapters are a phenomenal recourse that can assist people in connecting for jobs.
- Don’t be afraid to send resumes in – You never know who companies might consider hiring. They may broaden their search and reach out to novice coders.
- Get your foot in the door – If you’re trying to break into coding, consider starting off in other roles as a stepping-stone. Employers are always hiring for billing positions. Billing is a fantastic place to start, said Shew, and you can end up transferring to coding. The front desk is another great place to start, said Kirshner, because as a coder, you need to understand the entire revenue cycle. And working in the front can help you learn the nuances of insurance companies.
- Take advantage of AAPC’s mentorship program – It’s an amazing resource that’s free for all members.
- Sharpen your coding skills and gain experience with Practicode – AAPC’s powerful online tool is designed to test medical coding proficiency using real, redacted medical records concentrated on the top-hiring medical specialties.
- Seek additional certifications – The more you have, the more value you can bring to the workplace. Collecting credentials is a great way to move up the career ladder.
Do you have any parting words of advice for someone just coming into this field who is thinking about becoming a coder?
It can be challenging, but “it is 105 percent worth it. It has opened up so much. There is so much room for growth and development and meeting whatever need that makes you happy in life,” said Shew.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to somebody. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to take that next step,” said Kirshner. “Put yourself out there. I never would have gotten the last two positions that I’ve had if I didn’t throw my hat into the ring … Kelly said it’s 105 percent worth it; I would say it’s 200 percent worth it. I love what I do on an everyday basis.”
Learn From Experts on the Documentation Advisory Committee
Kirshner and Shew both sit on the Documentation Advisory Committee. “It’s one of six committees that work with AAPC to roadmap and look at some of the things coming up that we think would be helpful to our members to know and to understand – documentation, billing, compliance, coding, practice management,” Kirshner explained, as they segued into talking about their upcoming webinar.
Do you find yourself occasionally stumped by the ICD-10-CM guidelines? Join the AAPC Documentation Advisory Committee on April 6 for an hourlong session, Ask and Learn: The ICD-10-CM guidelines. You can submit your questions ahead of time to let them know what throws you. They’ll address questions submitted, as well as delve into things that are commonly overlooked, sequencing, and other sticking points.
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