My first coding job was about six years ago. I had called a local college asking about some health billing classes and as I was about to hang up the phone I asked the lady "by the way how do you get your first job in this field?". She said "it's kind of tough, but wait, someone put a card up on the board yesterday...". She got a card and I ended up with a lead. That lead turned into a $10.00 an hour job working for a small billing company. I did coding part-time and learned billing the rest of the time. It was a rough job, sometimes we weren't paid on time, but honestly I'd have worked for FREE for the experience. From there I was called again by the same lady at the college about a year later. She wondered if I was still working there and mentioned "I'm working for this agency and they need some coders". I ended up coding hospital ER physician side charts for alot more money. It was only a temp contract but it's experience and after that it's come one after another. If I had to give some tips they'd be as follows.
1. Don't balk at a lower paying job to get your foot in the door. A medical practice as a job reference is worth it's weight in gold as a reference.
2. Try volunteering in a hospital. You can mention "I'm a coder and would like to volunteer in medical records". Most hospitals I've worked at have allowed volunteers into those departments. Again it's a foot in the door.
3. Network. Go to your local meetings and introduce yourself. Don't limit yourself to "I'm looking for a coding job". ANY job in the healthcare field is a good start. Again get a foot in the door.
4. Research. Investigate the company you're applying with. Research their financials, their officers (if they're big), their history, their community involvement. Don't walk into an interview blind but know the specialty, the history, the doctors (that really impresses them). You wouldn't want someone to fix your car who had never read about your model would you? Of course not.
5. Personality. It's tough these days because of the economy. Alot of people are applying for jobs but remember many of them are not qualified at all. I've seen applications come in from people who have no medical experience at all via careerbuilder. Employers are flooded with these worthless resumes. Make yourself stand out. If you call to ask a question send a followup thank you note. If you get an interview again send an email or a thank you note a couple of days later. You want to make the interviewer remember you.
6. Education. I can't stress how important it is to stay on top of things. We all know ICD-10 is coming up in a couple of years and it's going to be tough. If you want to set yourself above other applicants attend a few seminars, indicate those on your resume, tell a prospective employer you're very excited about the changes and are learning all you can about ICD-10. I can tell you most of the doctors I know are NOT looking forwrad to it and most doctors offices will NOT be prepared for it when it comes. Education is alot more than letters behind your name it's a permanent part of the profession. There are plenty of free resources you can review if money is an issue.
Most important... be positive. It's tough sometimes (I know) but it's essential. You may need to take that non-coding job at first, you may need to take a job not in healthcare, but don't give up the goal. With ICD-10 and healthcare reform and RAC audits and private insurer reviews the role of coders will grow and grow. Gone are the days when a doctors wife can play office manager and his daughter handle the billing. Even if the doctors don't realize it yet they soon will with the upcoming changes. It's going to be a shock for them and educated certified coders are going to be their first line of defense.
Erik J. Kilbo, CCS, CCS-P, CPC, CPC-I, CDIP, CCDS
Manager - HIMS/Coding/CDI
Acute care hospital in metro Phoenix, AZ.
AAPC PMCC Instructor
AHIMA Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer