Medical coding is one of those professions that have very low barriers to entry on the low end. The barriers that are there however are not regulatory in nature but they are functional. Although you don’t need to have a degree or certification in medical coding to be an employed coder you do however need to find an employer that will hire you. That unfortunately will almost always require a bit of education on your part.
If you are looking for the quickest way to get into medical coding then by all means go read a book or two and then volunteer your time in a non-profit’s office where you can work with in house coding staff. Not all places will have such a thing and those that do will not need help in this area but if you can find someplace to get your foot in the door to build a bit of on the job experience and a good reference then you can get going right away.
If you care about starting off right as opposed to starting off immediately then you will have to choose how much education and certification you are going to shoot for prior to entering the working environment.
The CPC exam is the gold standard exam administered by the AAPC. They have no virtually requirements to take the exam other than age and possession of a high school diploma but the test is quite challenging for someone walking in off the street blind. If you want to jump into a CPC apprenticeship program then you will have to register for the CPC exam and wait for a testing date before you can acquire your CPC-A and start working with a trained and experienced team.
Most first-time CPC exam test takers study full or part time for a few weeks to a few months prior to the test. The more dedicated students will not only purchase study guides for home preparation but they will also attend exam prep classes that can be weeks to months long.
Still others prospective medical coders will go for full degrees in medical coding and billing. Not all colleges have programs for future medical coders but those that do are worth looking into if you expect to immerse yourself in a new career rather than a temporary job.
Degrees can last from 12 to 18 months in length and at the end you will have a degree in the field but you will still have to register for and pass the CPC exam if you have any interest in getting your professionally recognized credential.
Without a doubt the longer paths to your first job are more expensive and they require a lot of commitment but the end result will be a job that pays better and is far more secure. Employers (hospitalists, sole practitioners, & insurers) all need knowledgeable and dependable staff. Uneducated coders may be able to find jobs but they will be the most expendable and the most elementary of positions.
It’s true that you could get into medical coding almost immediately if you really wanted to but the vast majority of people looking to get into the field tend to at least go through CPC prep courses either at physical college campuses or online and then they obtain the CPC credential. You certainly don’t need a degree in the field if you don’t want one and this results in many medical coders landing their first entry level job in the profession in a matter of months.
Certainly the best long term play financially is to take the slow route into medical coding and get all your degrees and credentials and build experience after obtaining your CPC. As I’ve noted on this page on the salaries of medical coders the money is on the side of those highly educated. If you are considering starting a new career then make time to search for a good CPC prep course or a school with a medical coding degree program.