Is medical coding a good career fit for you?


Your career has tremendous bearing on your future and can affect your family, income, lifestyle, personal fulfillment, how you spend years of your time, and even your identity. It’s no wonder that making a career decision can feel impossible.

To enhance these same areas of their life, many people have chosen to become medical coders. As a career, medical coding has a lot of plusses. First, it doesn’t require extensive time or expense to become certified. Second, it pays well and has numerous opportunities for advancement. Third, it’s a highly respected position in the healthcare industry.

But a career decision is still a complicated undertaking, and you want to get it right. We’re hoping these few FAQs will help you step inside the role of a medical coder and see if it’s a good fit for you.

Q: What does a medical coder do?

A: Medical coders are highly specialized professionals who review patient health information recorded in the medical record. They then translate details such as symptoms, conditions, injuries, diseases, and medical treatment into alphanumeric codes. These medical codes serve as a language spoken between providers and payers. Because clinical documentation contains sensitive information, coders need to follow state and federal privacy regulations to maintain patient confidentiality.

When claim denials occur, coders assist in resolving the denial. Coders also meet with physicians to explain how they can improve their documentation to better support compliant coding and payment.

Q: Will I like medical coding?

A: Medical coding is a great job, but it isn’t for everyone. You have to really enjoy solving puzzles because every case you code is essentially a puzzle to find the exact codes to portray a full picture of the patient’s health. If you like sleuthing for answers, though — and you’re interested in medicine and think you’d like interacting with doctors and clinicians — then there’s a lot to love about coding.

Q: What type of person makes a good medical coder?

A: Medical coders come from all walks of life. Some begin their coding careers transitioning from clinical roles in healthcare. Others are recent high school graduates, while quite a few are empty nesters. We don’t see one background or personality type that makes a good coder. We do, though, see certain traits that suit the profession:

  • Curious. Do you like to learn new things? No matter how long you’ve been a coder, you’ll encounter something new on a regular basis.

  • Detail-oriented. Do you have an eye for subtleties? One word in a clinician’s documentation can mean the difference between the right code and the almost-right code.

  • Organized. Are you frequently late for appointments? Is your world cluttered? Coders must be able to manage time and space to avoid errors and meet deadlines.

  • Ethical. How are you with secrets? You’ll need to respect patient privacy and actively protect patient data.

  • Analytical. Are you good at connecting the dots? Good critical thinking skills help when perusing guidelines to choose appropriate codes.

Q: What is a typical day for a medical coder?

A: Medical coders usually work in offices separated from patient traffic. Most of their time is spent reviewing medical charts, double-checking guidelines, assigning codes, and resolving errors. A routine part of their day also involves collaborating with colleagues to discuss provider notes and billing issues.

Q: Do I need a college degree to become a coder?

A: Some schools offer a 2- or 4-year degree in medical coding, but a postsecondary education isn’t necessary. Becoming qualified as a coding professional requires only specialized training and certification. Employers prefer credentialed candidates, such as the Certified Professional Coder (CPC)® credential, and most students can compete CPC training in four to six months.

Q: What are some important medical coding skills?

A: Because medical coding involves abstracting information from the medical record, medical coders need working knowledge of anatomy and medical terminology. They also need to know how to report codes appropriately in a highly regulated industry.

Industry-specific skills:

  • ICD-10 coding

  • CPT coding

  • HCPCS coding

  • Medical terminology

  • Anatomy

  • Pathophysiology

  • Healthcare regulations

Professional skills:

  • Communication

  • Critical thinking / problem-solving

  • Time management

  • Attention to detail

  • Research

  • Organization

  • Computer literacy

Q: Where do medical coders work?

A: Medical coders work in a variety of settings — physician practices, hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, long-term care facilities, health plans, schools, and more.

Q: Can I work from home?

A: Coding from home was a privilege traditionally reserved for medical coders with several years of experience. The COVID pandemic, however, is changing that. Employers are now opening remote positions to more staff. Instead of 33% of coders working remotely, our survey shows that more than 59% of coders currently telecommute to work each day. This is good news for people wanting to work from home.

If, though, when beginning your career, you don’t immediately land a remote position, hang in there. Sometimes it’s in your best interests to start your career working closely with other coders. You’ll learn from your colleagues and gain experience. You’ll also feel more confident having others available to catch and prevent potential errors.

Q: How do I find a job?

A: Medical coders are in demand, but finding a new job can be challenging for any profession, in any industry. Top advice across the board has been, and remains, network. For coders, this is especially true.

Certified medical coders — and even students training for their certification — should take advantage of networking opportunities through membership in their accrediting institution. At AAPC, we recommend attending local chapter meetings, as well as participating on AAPC forums and Facebook groups. We also support our coders with exclusive mentorship opportunities, Project Xtern, and an online Job Search database.

Q: How do I get started?

A: If you decided medical coding is the right path for you, you’ll want to enroll in a certification program. Most people choose to train for the Certified Professional Coder (CPC)® credential, which validates proficiency in physician-based coding and is nationally recognized by employers, physician societies, and government organizations.

Last Reviewed on July 5, 2022.

Certified Professional Coder (CPC)® Training

The CPC credential is the gold-standard credential for medical coders. AAPC's CPC Certification Preparation Course is an entry-level course that prepares you to take your CPC exam.

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