How to Become a Medical Coder

Medical coders are responsible for coding medical records for healthcare computer systems. Explore what it takes to enter the profession.
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  • Medical coders turn complex medical records into standardized code for easier communication.
  • Medical coding certification has many professional benefits and may be required for employment.
  • The medical coding certification you choose may have an effect on the roles and work environments available to you.
  • Experience, advanced credentials, and location can impact medical coder salary and opportunities.

Medical coders manage patient records in the healthcare numerical coding system. These professionals translate medical records and input them as standardized codes for ease of communication and privacy.

You can take various paths to medical coding jobs, including earning certificates in medical coding, an associate degree, and professional certifications. Explore this guide for more details on the profession and your training options. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

4 Steps to Becoming a Medical Coder

  1. Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  2. Determine which medical coding certification you want to earn, such as the certified coding associate (CCA) or the certified professional coder (CPC).
  3. Prepare for credentialing exams. While not required, an associate degree in medical coding or a coding prep program can help prepare you for the credentialing exams.
  4. Take and pass the certification exam to earn your medical coding certification.

Featured Medical Coding Programs

What Is a Medical Coder?

Medical coders translate medical records into diagnosis and procedure codes for healthcare's universal numerical coding system. These professionals help physicians and medical specialists communicate with each other, and billing and insurance companies.

Medical billers and coders have different roles, but they do work closely. Coders make it easier for healthcare billing professionals to assign a value to medical services and track payments. Medical coders must also ensure the accuracy and privacy of records.

Medical Coder Responsibilities

  • Convert complex medical procedures and treatments into universal codes.
  • Work with insurance companies and physicians to discuss the correct coding analysis.
  • Review patients' charts and verify the codes for procedures, treatments, and diagnoses.
  • Effectively communicate with the healthcare team.
  • Search for coding information in unusual or complex cases.

Medical Coder Skills

  • Analytical: Analytical skills help medical coders interpret medical records and turn them into numerical code.
  • Detail Oriented: Medical coders need to pay close attention to the fine details to avoid errors.
  • Understanding of Terminology: Coders need medical terminology skills to understand and translate medical records into numerical code.
  • Understanding of Technology: Medical coders need computer software skills and the ability to use the most up-to-date coding systems.

Medical Coder Certifications

While some employers accept a high school diploma and several years of experience, many expect you to earn certification. These certifications also prepare you for advancement opportunities and increased earnings.

Though not required, the institutions below offer programs to prepare you for these exams. Some certifications require work experience in lieu of the completion of foundational training courses.

The American Academy of Professional Coders

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) provides certification and networking opportunities for medical coding professionals. The AAPC offers five certifications for medical coders:

  • Certified professional coder (CPC)
  • Certified outpatient coding (COC)
  • Certified inpatient coding (CIC)
  • Certified risk adjustment coder (CRC)
  • Specialty credentials for expert coders in their specific field

American Health Information Management Association

The American Health Information Management Association offers the certified coding associate and the certified coding specialist (CCS) credentials. The CCA is for those just entering the profession, while the CCS demonstrates mastery in the field.

Practice Management Institute

The Practice Management Institute offers a certified medical coder (CMC) credential. This certification is for coders in outpatient settings. To enroll in this program, you must have one year of experience working as an outpatient medical coder or have completed foundational coding courses.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Medical Coder?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical records specialists and medical coders typically need a postsecondary certificate for employment. Many employers expect or prefer you to have medical coder certification as well.

Employers may hire you with only a high school diploma with the expectation that you earn certification in the near future. Some employers might require you to hold an associate degree.

Medical Coder Salary: How Much Does a Medical Coder Make?

The BLS reports that medical coders earn a median wage of $46,660, with the top 10% making an annual salary of $74,200 or more as of May 2021. General medical and surgical hospitals employ the greatest number of these professionals, followed by physicians' offices.

The top-paying industries include insurance carriers and scientific research and development services. Medical coders in these two fields earned an average wage of $64,170 and $61,080, respectively, in 2021.

Top 5 Paid States:

  • New Jersey
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • California
  • Connecticut

Types of Medical Coders

Medical coders may work in outpatient settings like clinics or doctors' offices. If you want to work in this setting, you may consider taking the CPC exam.

Others focus on outpatient or inpatient coding and work in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers. These coders may consider earning the certified outpatient coder or the certified inpatient coder certifications.

Depending on the size of the facility or hospital, you may perform both inpatient and outpatient coding. The certified coding specialist certification can prepare you for this position. Some facilities combine medical billing and coding, with one person performing both roles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Medical Coder

Is medical coding a good career?

Medical coding can be a good career for you if you want to get started working in the healthcare field fast. Medical coders get to do rewarding work without investing as much study time and money as many other healthcare professions. In fact, you can often qualify for medical coding jobs in less than two years.

Is medical coding hard?

Medical coding can be hard to learn and master. Coders need to know the terminology and codes for a large number of diagnoses and procedures. They also need the analytical abilities to translate medical notes into code.

Medical coding jobs also come with scheduling challenges. Professionals may need to work difficult hours, including weekends and shift work.

What does a medical coder do?

Medical coders turn medical notes and records into numerical code for faster and easier communication across various healthcare channels. They analyze, classify, and transform medical records into code and then enter it into the healthcare coding system.

A medical coder's work helps with record storage, privacy, and communication. Medical coders also work with healthcare billing and insurance professionals to ensure clear communication. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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