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What Does It Take To Become A Certified Professional Coder?

certified professional coder

A medical coder is a valuable asset to any medical professional.

Coders are the backbone of the billing department – after all, they are the source for billing insurance and private individuals.

Becoming a coder takes some time, but if you go through the coursework, you can embark on an exciting new career opportunity with a promising future.

Industry Outlook For Certified Professional Coders (CPCs) Is Promising

Physician offices, dentists, and other healthcare professionals need someone who can bill quickly and efficiently. The demand for CPCs in today’s expanding medical industry is enormous.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that medical coder jobs will increase by 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for other jobs in the U.S. So if you are considering a career change, you will not find a shortage of jobs.


The current pay scale for a CPC is rewarding, too. According to the 2017 Salary Survey conducted by the AAPC, the average salary for a CPC is $54,106 after 13 years of experience and carrying an average of two certifications. The BLS shows a median pay in 2017 of $18.83 per hour or $39,180 per year for this position. However, those working in the hospital setting have an average of $42,090 per year.

6 Steps To Becoming A Certified Professional Coder

If moving into the field of medical coding seems like the perfect career choice for you, you have a few steps to complete first.

You cannot apply to CPC positions without the right training and certifications. Here is what you need to do:

1. Get An Education

two kids smiling

Education is the first step if you want a career as a CPC. Look for local classes in your area that offer an associate’s degree in the field or a coding certificate.

Typically, technical schools and trade schools are the go-to for these degrees. Luckily, you do not have to show up to class for your education. CPC certification programs are online, which means you can take courses at your convenience while still working, taking care of a family, or moving at the pace that works for you.

Before picking the first program you find, make sure the training program you choose includes:

  • HIPAA training
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • ICD-9 and ICD-10 diagnostic codes
  • CPT procedural coding
  • Healthcare and health insurance billing practices
  • Computer software training

No matter the school you choose, make sure the one you pick is accredited, too. Some companies offer self-study courses online, but they lack accreditation, which means your education hours are not recognized by certifying bodies – and your money goes to waste.

Most certifying bodies offer online training, like the AAPC medical coding courses.

2. Obtain On-The-Job Training

certified professional coder

You need to reach full certification eventually, but while you are completing your certification, you may qualify for an on-the-job training program. These give you hands-on experience, so you can use what you learn in class right in front of you – all while being paid.

You need a thorough understanding of medical coding and general medical terminology. Therefore, hands-on training might be beneficial if you do not learn well studying books.

Stick to jobs that are “medical coding” and only require a high school diploma with online training. Some companies may pay for a portion of your certification education, too.

3. Find A National Certifying Organization For Your Testing

corporate man writing on his notebook

Where you obtain your test certificate for CPC matters.

You want a nationally recognized certifying body for your testing. Typically, you go through an application process, pay fees, and take exams online or at a testing facility.

The two national certifying bodies recognized include the American Academy of Procedural Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Each certifying body has specific requirements. The AAPC, for example, requires that you have two years of experience before you can sit for the official exam. You can test for your CPC-A without experience, but you must upgrade after you reach the two-year mark.

AHIMA requires equivalent experience in a training program meeting a specific number of on-the-job hours.

4. Register For Your Exam On Time


Once you pick your certifying body, the next step is to give yourself enough time to apply.

You can test with both if you are concerned about job requirements, but most coders will choose one or the other.

You can look at local testing certification sites or online test times. Both organizations require that you apply and pay for your examination by a specific deadline. Therefore, pay close attention to these dates.

5. Give Yourself Time To Study For The Examination And Time For The Exam Itself

woman studying

Even if you complete a training course, you need time to study for the exam. Your training course might offer supplemental exam prep courses, while others do not.

You can purchase CPC exam study prep books as well.

Also, prepare yourself for what each exam entails. If you take the physician-based medical coder exam offered through the AAPC, you need up to six hours to complete this test. You have 150 multiple choice questions to answer.

If you choose the AHIMA testing body, you need four hours for the test, and you have 109 questions focused on billing, medical records, and reimbursement practices.

6. Remember To Stick With Continuing Education

group of students studying

The field of medical billing continues to evolve.

A good coder is one that continues education long after certification.

Also, all certifying bodies have CE requirements. Therefore, you need to pay attention to these requirements and get in your hours before the deadline. You can look at each website’s annual and bi-annual CE demands. Book your CE courses on time to avoid lapses in certification

Do You Have The Right Traits?

certified professional coder

Becoming a medical coder is more than completing your education and passing the certification exam. It requires the right set of personality traits and capabilities, too.

Here are just a few qualities of a successful CPC:

  • You Are Detail-Oriented: Details drive you. You thrive on accuracy, and when you process and code insurance claims, you review the patient’s chart, pay attention to the details, and ensure the right codes are used to avoid payment delays. You are good at spotting errors, tracking past codes used, and know when to question records.
  • You Are Discreet: Medical coding requires a high level of discretion because you are dealing with a patient’s personal health information. Patients have a legal right to privacy. Therefore, you cannot share their data, discuss it with employees, or casually pass it on to an outside party. Instead, you treat medical records with absolute discretion – almost as if they are anonymous entirely.
  • You Are Analytical: Any career requires that you understand and follow procedures, but as a medical coder, you need to know medical diagnoses and how to convert diagnoses into the right code for reimbursement from the insurer. You must understand medical terminology, anatomy, and have the ability to use logic when analyzing information from a patient’s chart.
  • You Are Tech Savvy: Coders deal with a variety of software programs, electronic record keeping systems, and computers. Almost all companies today use the Electronic Health Records (EHR) software. Not only should you know how to use these systems, but you should have a basic understanding of the technology you might encounter if you were to change jobs, substitute in a different department, or the company upgrades.
  • You Are Assertive: A medical biller deals with a variety of different people, including physicians, nurses, healthcare workers, and patients. You might deal with insurance companies, and sometimes you encounter hostility. You must know how to diffuse emotions and be assertive even when disagreements arise between your service and another party.

Bottom line, an excellent coder is one that can use logic, reason, and rely on their training along with their instincts to get the job done.

Are You Ready Ro Become A Certified Professional Coder?

Now that you know what it takes to become a CPC, you can start your journey.

The first step is to find an online course that will arm you with the knowledge and training you need to do the job right. With the right education behind you, you will find that being a CPC is highly rewarding and exciting.

Learn more about careers in medical billing and coding by finding the right schools to jumpstart your career at Best Medical Billing and Coding.