How to Learn Medical Coding in Three Easy Steps

Everyone knows medical coding and billing is a lucrative career - but how do people break into the industry? In this article, we're going to look at 3 ways to break into the medical billing and coding industry that will help you get the remote or local hospital job you want.

Medical coding education in 3 easy steps. Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash.
Medical coding education in 3 easy steps. Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash.

Everyone knows medical coding and billing is a lucrative career - but how do people break into the industry? In this article, we're going to look at 5 ways to break into the medical billing and coding industry that will help you get the job you want - including remote jobs in hospitals and local jobs in your area.

  • Step 1: Learning Medical Coding
  • Step 2: Getting Certified
  • Step 3: Finding Your First Job (Using our Simple 5-step Process!)

Step 1: Learning Medical Coding

The first thing you'll need to do to become a medical coder is to actually learn the source material that you'll use on the job. This can be complex, as it ranges from medical anatomy to healthcare processes and terminology.

Enroll in a course or Certification program

To support yourself in learning this, you'll want to enroll in a medical coding course - often a medical coding certification course. This is a double whammy, as you'll be able to take your CPC or CCA certification exam immediately after completing the course. You'll not only learn the material you'll need on the job, but you'll be ready to take the certificate exam right away.

Choosing a medical coding course

There are three types of medical coding courses - certification programs, associate's degree programs, and Bachelor's degree programs.

Certification programs are typically geared towards professional education, and aim to cover all you need to start working in the medical billing field within six to nine months. They typically cost between $1000 and $3000, though some providers can vary more or less.

Associate's programs are offered by local colleges and typically take longer, but prepare you for an entire career in healthcare, including opportunities in management. They typically cost between $5000 and $20,000, and take two to three years to complete.

Bachelor's degree programs (B.A. and B.S.) are full 4-year degrees, typically in healthcare administration or health information management, that prepare one for immediate careers in medical billing and coding, but also for future growth in coding management, healthcare project management, and other roles throughout the medical industry. Bachelor's degrees can cost up to $40,000 for the full four years, though alternative pathways and aid are often available.

You can find more information about associate's programs for medical billing and coding in our article here.

You can find more information about comparing each type below.

# Classes Time to Complete Cost Prepares for Particularly good for
Certification 4-6 9 months $900-$3000 Work experience Break into the field
Associate's 8-10 2-3 years $10,000-$20,000 Leadership position, Bachelor's degree Management or other healthcare industry
Bachelor's 30-32 4-6 years $10,000-$30,000 Healthcare admin, leadership, and project management Advance existing career, managerial position

What will I Learn in a Medical Coding program?

Whichever type you choose, a medical coding program will cover the essential skills and knowledge you will need to be successful as a healthcare professional who deals daily with insurance, complex medical procedures, and patient privacy. This covers knowledge about:

  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy
  • Healthcare processes
  • Diagnostic coding and ICD-10
  • Medical law & ethics
  • Insurance and the business of healthcare
  • Healthcare data & compliance

Regardless of which course you choose, understanding the above will give you a solid foundation for your career in medical coding and the healthcare industry at large.

A Typical Coding Program Syllabus

Want to see what students learn in medical coding programs? Here's 3 typical syllabi from reputable institutions that might give you a better idea:

Did you notice the differences in time and depth between the certification programs and degree programs? The good news is that education builds on itself, so courses taken for one program can also be applied to another program in the future.

Can I take my medical coding course remotely?

Yes! You can take many of the courses, or even the entire certification program, remotely. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, and even before, many institutions have started to offer medical coding and billing courses entirely remotely. Look below for 5 colleges and universities that are offering medical coding programs, along with course dates, times, and costs.

Which Medical Coding training program should I take?

The one that's right for you! If you want our opinion, though, we often recommend a certificate program as the fastest and most cost-effective way to get started in the industry.

Step 2: Getting certified

Now that you're educated, you're ready to get certified! The main decision to make at this stage is which certification exam to take.

Which medical coding certification exam should I take?

There are three main exams in the medical coding field: the CPC, CCA, and CBCS. Each exam has its own set of questions, and certifies you for work in a different kind of medical setting: physician practices (doctor's offices), hospital inpatient and outpatient settings, and directly with the health insurance companies.

The CPC Exam (Certified professional coder)

The CPC is the most commonly taken, and the most widely-accepted medical coding certification exam. It covers commonly used codes and practices in daily medicine, and qualifies you for practice in a physician or doctor's office. You can't go wrong with a CPC certification.

The CCA Exam (Certified Coding Associate)

The CCA exam is also widely accepted, and is the only entry-level credential that qualifies you for work in both physician and inpatient hospital settings. The CCA is the certificate that will give you the widest range of options, and it's well-regarded to boot.

The CBCS Exam (Certified Billing and Coding Specialist)

The CBCS is a newer exam, and focuses specifically on preparing you for work on medical billing and coding that specifically for insurance claims. Some graduates with the CBCS credential work in doctor's offices, and others work directly with insurance companies. Because it is a new credential, not a lot of historical data exists, but it is becoming quite popular among people who want to break into the field quickly.

So Which exam should I take?

Our general recommendation is to take the CPC, because it's the most widely-applicable and cost-effective exam, and follow up with other certifications once you've broken into the field. This will let you get into the workplace right away, and start gathering information about what you like and don't like, and where you want to grow.

See below for a chart comparing the CPC, CCA, and different certification exams, along with salary info on how much each one makes in salary.

Qualifies for Starting Salary Req'd to Pass # Questions Exam length Cost Study Time First Time Pass Rate Offered by
CPC Physician $51,000/yr 70% 100 MC 4 hours $299 2-6 months to pass 55% AAPC
CCA Physician, inpatient $58,500 75% 90-115 MC 2 hours $299 6 months 74% AHIMA
CBCS Insurance, physician $39,500 75% 125 MC 2 hours $117 3-6 months 68% NHA

Can I take the certification exam remotely?

Yes! Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the CPC has developed and offers a remote option administered online through Blackboard. It costs $199, lasts 4 hours (same as the live exam), and is administered on your personal computer. Find out more information here.

The CCA and CBCS do not offer online options at this time. Find out more about the CCA here and CBCS here.

Step 3: Finding a job

Congrats! Now that you're certified, you can get on finding your first job in the industry. Many people say that this is the most challenging time in your medical coding journey, but with our community of likeminded people and a good amount of gumption, you too will succeed in finding your first job and taking the next step towards that six-figure coding salary.

How do we get started? Let's go!

How to get started? Keep it simple. Follow our easy 5-step process to secure the perfect job.

One thing we often see in the medical coding world seen is that the job-hunting process often triggers a lot of worry and anxiety in people. It's a stressful time!

How should I get started? Where should I look? How many applications should I send? What should I write? Should I include a cover letter?


If this sounds like you, fret not. We've put together a simple 5-step process for apply to jobs that not only maximizes your success, but is fun to boot. Let's go!

Start by looking at job sites

The first step is to start looking for resources and identifying what's out there. Make a list of job sites that post jobs that appeal to you, and start familiarizing yourself with the requirements.

To get you started, here are 5 free sites you can check for remote jobs and jobs in your area:

Make a great resume

A great resume is one that isn't just visually appealing - but one that has a lot of meat on it too. Luckily, you have a lot of meat from your certification course, exam prep, and other programs. If you've worked in the insurance or health information management industries, that's a huge plus! Put it down, get a resume review from friends and family (or even online!), and get ready to send it out.

Check out our post for 4 recent examples of healthcare resumes that nailed students from different backgrounds their first medical coding and billing jobs.

Use a short, but sweet, Cover Letter

A lot of people get nervous around cover letters, and think that the more they write, the more employers will be impressed. Sound familiar?

In fact, that's not really the purpose of cover letters. (Technically, that's what the resume is for - and you should put a lot of effort in bragging there!)

But what's the purpose of a cover letter, then?

A cover letter is meant to impress upon the employer that not only are you a nice person with excellent qualifications, but also that you REALLY WANT THIS JOB. It's your chance to connect personally with your employer, and show them that you really care.

And not just care about any job - you care about this job. Their special job. So you don't need to mention everything you've done. Instead, mention a few things you've done in the past, and connect them to how those experiences will help make you an ace candidate for their current role.

For example, you might have worked with insurance at your previous job, or you might have experience doing data entry for EMRs. Mentioning this can help your application look different from the other mundane, boring cover letters your future boss reads every day.

By remaining relevant, but keeping it short and sweet, you help yourself stand out.

And even better - that makes these cover letters even easier and quicker to write.

Apply to Jobs

Now that you've got your resume and cover letter, it's time to apply to jobs.

How many jobs should I apply to?

100s! Most people think it's okay to apply to three or four jobs, and then wait and see what happens. Then, they're surprised when their resume is lost in the shuffle or they don't hear back from them for 3-4 weeks.

Here at Medical Coding Ace, we don't subscribe to that philosophy. We subscribe to the philosophy of WINNING! And to do that, we recommend going a little above the norm.

Which jobs should I Apply To?

Using the above sites, find 10-20 jobs you like that have the salary, job location, and benefit constraints you're satisfied with. This will be your starting lineup.

How do I apply to Jobs?

First, apply to the 10-20 jobs you've already identified. Because you've already got your resume and cover letter sorted, this will be easy. If you'd like to personalize it a bit, you can modify one sentence in your cover letter to highlight something specific or relevant to the job.

The goal here is to start building some momentum, so don't worry too much about each individual application. We'll worry later - after you've got your interviews scheduled!

What's Next? Keeping the Pipeline full

Now that you've got your base out and have some job hunt momentum, let's keep it going and keep our pipeline full.

Each week, apply to 5-10 more high-quality job postings using the same process. Because you'll have your resume and cover letter prepped, this should be easy.

Some people like to chunk it over the weekend, some people like to do 1 per night.

Either way, once we've put in our applications for the week, it's time for us to sit back and wait for interview requests.

What do I do once I get an Interview Request?

As interview requests come in, schedule them regularly and work them in with your regular week. If you work, negotiate hours with your manager, or take time off for family or friends to get the time to go to these. Don't worry about what people will think - after all, it's your time, and you can decide what to do with it.

What do I do after the interview?

Negotiate salaries (if applicable), and accept your new job offer. Congrats!

Anything else?

Any way you do it, this plan will result in you having more job applications - and therefore more interviews - than anybody else. Apply the system and see -- or just ask our recent grads if you're curious!

What now?

Now that you have the job, the real work begins.

As your career progresses, you may find that you're interested in staying in medical coding, or moving into management of other coders and billers, or that you're interested in moving into an entirely different part of healthcare or health information management.

Because of your background in medical coding, all of these options are open to you. Pursue the ones that stand out, and always remember to rely on your classmates for advice and knowledge. Your career in medical coding will be challenging at times, but you'll rise to the occasion together with the help of your talented coworkers, former classmates, and professional network.

Congratulations on your new career and your future - you deserve it!

Frequently Asked Questions on: Learning medical coding, Getting certified, and Finding a job

Can I teach myself medical coding?

While much of the material to learn medical coding and billing is available online, you'll still have to get certified in order to become a practicing medical coder. In addition, some skills you can only learn on the job or from a seasoned professional - like the "soft skills" of where to look up codes, how to behave in the workplace, and little things like how to network your way into a job.

For these reasons, we recommend going through an official certification program. That said, you don't need to learn everything through that program - learning on your own is a great way to get started and see if medical billing and coding is for you - without spending a ton of money on an expensive course.

How long does medical coding take to learn?

Most medical billers and coders take between 1 and 3 years. Earning a health billing and coding license can be done in as little as two years, with a certificate in as little as one year. If you are interested in a career in management, pursuing a full associate degree in healthcare management, with specializations in billing and coding, may last three or more years.

Is Medical coding hard to learn?

No! It just takes effort. Medical billing and coding is a skill just like any other. Keep a growth mindset, enroll in a good certification course, put in the time it takes, and don't take shortcuts - and you'll be well on your way to earning $60, $70, or even $90,000/year as a medical billing and coding specialist.

Can I teach myself medical coding if I have prior experience in healthcare?

There's a chance! Self-taught medical coding can be easier for people who already work with insurance companies and who have the basic knowledge of the healthcare system and other medical terms. It'd be extremely difficult if one doesn't have any experience in the medical field, simply because of all the terminology and healthcare-specific procedures you'll be required to use.

How can I learn ICD-10 for Free?

CAMS announced this week that the organization is offering an ICD-10-CM diagnostic program for patients. Among these is a detailed implementation guide for ICD-10, and a new classification system. Check out these resources to get started for free!

Is a medical coding Certificate worth it?

Many people say yes! A medical coding certificate and certification programs is the quickest way to break into the industry - in only 1 year. However, it's important to follow up on that certificate and keep up the effort until you're able to get a job in the healthcare field.

Getting a certificate or taking a certification course is not a guarantee of getting a job. However, students do say that it gets a lot easier after the first job in the industry. Check out our resources to learn more!

Is Medical Coding hard?

It's about as hard as any other job! It requires specialized knowledge and the ability to quickly deal with complex situations. After all, you're being paid for your specialty. That doesn't mean it's a hard job, though - most medical billers report being highly satisfied with their work environment, benefits, and feel that they are able to make an impact in the world.

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