What Higher Education Programs Are Available for Medical Coders?

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If you’re looking to start a lucrative career in medical coding, there are several education options to help you excel in today’s tight job market. And while there are more positions for medical coders available than in other similar industries, the recession and waning economy has made for fierce competition. For this reason, pursuing a higher education program is the best way to ensure job security and open up new doors for your entire career.

Below are the three higher education program options available to you. Keep in mind that as with most professions, the more training you receive (i.e. the higher education level you complete), the more in-demand you become and the more money you will receive for your specialty services. For medical coders, those with a bachelor’s degree will have the easiest time finding a job, keeping it and making sure it’s high paying. Before a bachelor’s is an associate’s, which is preceded by a certificate or diploma. Keep this in mind when deciding which level of education and training you wish to attain.

Certificate or Diploma

Typically taking only nine months to a year to complete, certificate and diploma programs (the title is dependent upon the institution from which you attain it) are offered in career colleges and community colleges. These are typically a littler cheaper than universities which make them more appealing to some. Also, career college programs generally have a faster track for completing the program, something else that is very appealing.

Skills You Will Learn

Some of the many skills you will learn in a certificate or diploma program include:

  • Filling out medical forms for your place of employment
  • Having a working understanding of the coding terminology that comes with medical coding
  • Possessing a basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology so you can comprehend and annotate the information with which you are working
  • Performing office tasks
  • Having strong organizational skills as well as financial billing tasks and other things that might (and will) be asked of you


When obtaining your diploma or certificate in medical coding you can expect to take courses in:

  • Medical Office Administration
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Basic ICD Coding
  • Medical Finance
  • Medical Terminology

Associate’s Degree

Taking a bit longer than certificate or diploma programs is the associate program in medical coding. Generally, this program takes two years to complete because the curriculum is more extensive and delves into more advanced portions of the profession. While you can obtain your associate’s degree at both community and career colleges, the time-intensive coursework and ultimate outcome of a more lucrative career will cost a bit more. Most say it’s worth it; especially if you’re on the fence about obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Associate programs make sure that you leave well-versed in the English language and mathematical skill areas. On top of this, you can expect to excel in the medical coding industry far more than those who obtain mere diplomas or certificates. Still, the requirements are about the same, if only turned up a notch.

Common Coursework for an Associate’s Degree

Here are some of the courses you can expect to take while obtaining your associate’s degree:

  • Clinical Classification Systems: Courses that teach you the classification system that medical coders use are an essential part of your education. The medical industry uses an established set of standard codes to denote different types of procedures such as anesthesia, surgery and chemotherapy. Each of these codes refers to a specific procedure and are used to expedite the filing and finding of medical records, as well as being used for code auditing for reimbursement. Common coding systems you’ll learn about are ICD-9, ICD-10, CPT and DSM.
  • Health Information Management: In these courses you’ll learn how to enter, store and retrieve patient records efficiently. While this may seem simple on the surface, the process also includes patient consent regulations, information retrieval access requests, disclosure, documentation and other legal and ethical issues which healthcare organizations have to deal with each day in order to properly maintain patient’s medical records.
  • Medical Terminology: If you’re going to be working in the healthcare industry, you’re going to need to learn the vernacular. Properly spelling, using, pronouncing and understanding of medical terms is essential so that nothing gets lost in translation.  You have to speak the lingo in order to prevent mistakes and speed up the communication process. You’ll learn about different types of illnesses and their treatments and diagnoses as well as gain a working understanding of the human anatomy.
  • Internships and Externships: Typically unpaid and lasting three to six months, internships and externships help students get hands-on experience that will help them once they get out into the real world. This experience makes students more desirable for hiring once they graduate since they’ll already have real world experience. Intern and externships can also provide great recommendations and references and may even turn into an actual job.

Bachelor’s Degree

Only offered at colleges and universities, a bachelor’s degree in medical coding is formally called health information management and health care administration. This provides you with the most career options and places you in the highest level of desirability when it comes to the job market, including management positions.

Of course, these perks also come with a price: four years of schooling as well as a slightly higher cost for the courses. That said, many see the long-term benefits of having job security and a high-paying position as well worth the cost. This is due to the fact that during the program you will not only learn everything taught at the associate’s level, but gain professional leadership and management skills as well. You will be able to work in top-level coding administrative positions for health information management offices in hospitals, mental health facilities, physician’s offices, and public health agencies anywhere.

Further, you’ll learn to create, implement and operate accurate and efficient health information systems while overseeing a large medical coding staff. As a top employee in your office, you’ll be expected to work and coordinate with other healthcare-related administrative offices.

Common Coursework for a Bachelor’s Degree

In addition to the core curriculum and courses mentioned above in the diploma and associate’s program, bachelor’s programs teach you things like:

  • Health information management strategies
  • Business administration principles
  • Information technology applications
  • Ethics law
  • Privacy mandates and compliancy issues

Finding a Medical Coding School

For more information about education, training and how to find a medical coding school, read Choosing a Medical Coding School – Options and Considerations.

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