Advancing Your Career in Medical Coding

Taking Your Medical Coding Career to New Heights of Success

Medical coders often enjoy lifelong careers with their core medical coding credential, whether they began in the healthcare industry as a CPC, COC, CIC, or CRC. Most coders, though, branch into related roles. With multiple credentials and a diversity of skills and experience, the options along your career path are endless.

Credential Workplace
Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Physician practice
Certified Outpatient Coder (COC) Hospital/facility, outpatient dept. or ambulatory surgical center
Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC) Hospital/facility, inpatient
Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC) Health plan, risk adjustment vendor; all settings

Chart a Course for Career Advancement

As you plan your career, think about your strengths and weaknesses, and what you most enjoy doing. Also, consider current industry trends in healthcare and opportunities at your current place of employment.

Your career plan should include a list of activities needed to reach your goal, along with resources to support achieving it. AAPC has an array of credentialing opportunities for diverse healthcare business roles. Identify which certification(s) will support your desired role.

Medical Coding Career: Entry-Level Positions

Newly credentialed coders starting their career sometimes encounter difficulty landing their first medical coding position. It’s important to persist in your employment pursuits, but it’s also important to stay flexible and open to opportunities that will get you in the door.

For beginner or entry-level medical coders, employment may include non-coding roles associated with billing or insurance claim processing.

"I got experience from working the reception desk, scheduling, insurance, collecting on bad debt, pulling and filing medical records, and yes, coding," says Brenda Edwards, CPC, CDEO, CPB, CPMA, CPC-I, CEMC, CRC, CMRS, CMCS.

Brenda now serves as the executive management consultant at SCBI and has over 30 years of experience in billing, coding, auditing, education, practice management, and compliance. "I truly believe that having a well-rounded background is important, she says - adding that she never dreamed she’d have “such a fun and interesting career in healthcare."

Brenda's advice to new coders? "Get that credential, take that entry-level position, volunteer to get experience, join a local chapter, and network your way up."

It's worth repeating.

  • Get the credential
  • Take the entry-level position
  • Volunteer to get experience
  • Join a local chapter
  • Network your way up

Medical Coding Career: Intermediate-Level Positions

If you've been a medical coder for a few years and are looking to advance your career, you have numerous opportunities to choose from. First, you might consider getting additional credentials to broaden your coding knowledge and reinforce your critical thinking and management skills.

Are willing to take on more responsibilities? If you're working toward a mid-career promotion, you might think about roles such as coder II and higher, coding educator, validation specialist, coding supervisor, and specialty coder.

While specialty certifications don’t apply to inpatient coding, they're useful to CPCs and COCs. The average salary for coders with a specialty credential is $64,712 annually. This is 11.4% higher than the median salary of $58,055 for CPCs without specialty certification.

Another mid-career option is adding a second core certification to your wheelhouse. If you're a CPC, for example, earning your COC certification could be a valuable move in view of the consolidation trend between hospitals and physician practices.

Risk adjustment coding is also a key skillset to bring to the table. Health plans and third-party auditing companies need CRCs. But risk adjustment coding plays a significant role in securing optimal reimbursement in all healthcare settings (inpatient, outpatient, physician practice). It even plays a role in earning MACRA incentive pay. As a CRC, mid-career coders stand to raise their earning potential by 13.43%.

Medical Coding Career: Additional Intermediate-Level Credentials

You also have the option to move into advanced healthcare business roles, such as:

As you invest in developing your professional skills with an eye for advancing in the workplace, always remember to tailor your career choices to what you most enjoy doing.

“Every area within coding has rules, regulations, and guidelines that must be followed,” says Julie Davis, COC, CPC, CPCO, CDEO, CPMA, CPC-I, AAPC Fellow. “Being a medical auditor and compliance officer is a natural fit for me because I’m very rule focused.”

“It seems only natural that I created and managed a team of auditors for last 10 years. I’m now working in risk adjustment and ramping up to earn my Certified Risk Adjustment Coder credential,” she says.

Learn from her example and customize your career to your personality and strengths.

Medical Coding Career: Advanced-Level Positions

Countless responsibilities, expectations, and deadlines come with management positions. If your medical coding career path is moving towards a position in leadership, know that higher education may be necessary, depending on the position and employer.

Advanced-level coding professional positions include coding manager, consultant, revenue cycle manager, performance improvement, HIM manager, compliance auditor, and fraud/waste investigator.

Medical Coding Career: Master-Level Positions

If you have the technical experience and soft skills needed to become proficient not only in medical coding but also in associated functional areas — such as revenue cycle management, compliance, and process improvement — you’re eligible for a master-level position.

For master-level positions, employers look for someone with 10 or more years of experience, some of which have been spent in management. Employers may also prefer an individual with a master’s degree.

Whether you’re working for an organization or for yourself, master-level positions require excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Your coding career path will need to include activities for developing business, relational, and clinical acumen.

Master-level positions open to you might include coding director, compliance officer, HIM director, project management, college professor, VP coding, operations director, and consultant (CEO).

Top 5 Traits of a Certified Professional Coder (CPC®)

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Last Reviewed on July 5, 2022 by AAPC Thought Leadership Team

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