A medical coding and billing career is a highly rewarding career, both financially and emotionally. Your starting salary begins around $23,000 and raises quickly. Experienced medical coders can earn as much as $52,000 a year. Medical coding also opens to doors to numerous other even more lucrative medical careers.
Emotionally, medical coders get the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping patients receive the care they need. You help make sure that your patients’ insurance paperwork is processed properly. You don’t need to have a medical background or a medical degree to get in the field, although you do need specialized training.
Getting in the Door as a Medical Coder
Most training courses last anywhere between 6 months to 18 months, depending on class frequency and the intensity of the course. Anyone with a high school diploma or a GED is qualified to take the training course. Though some employers might list qualifications such as “1 Year Medical Experience Required,” in reality many employers are willing to forgo those requirements in lieu of skill an enthusiasm.
In order to start practicing as a medical coder, you need to first pass your certification tests. The two main tests are the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) test and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician Based (CCS-P) exam. Depending on the specific field you’re entering, you may also need to take other tests, including the Certified Professional Coder – Payer (CPC-P), Certified Professional Coder – Outpatient Hospital (CPC-H) or Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC) tests.
Why Many Students Fail Their First CPC Attempt
The CPC exam is notoriously difficult. Because the length of the training course is so long, it’s not unusual to completely forget something that was taught in Month 2 by the time you’re in Month 12. A lot of the material is dry and needs to be memorized by rote, which makes retaining a large volume of data that much more difficult.
Most students have never been taught effective ways to study. Nor have they been told which sections to study most carefully. Though the exam is an open book, most students have very ineffective marking and note taking systems, which makes it far more difficult for them to find the answers they need in their notes.
The exam environment only makes matters worse. You’re placed in a stale room for five and a half hours. You know your career depends on passing the test. Your brain is producing stress-inducing hormones like cortisol, which clouds thinking and hampers memory. Pretty soon facts you thought you knew fly out your brain and you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper.
There is no grade to the exam. It’s purely pass-fail. You need a 70% correct test to pass.
The “Right” Way to Study: High Retention Strategies
The best way to study for the CPC exam is to use proven high retention study strategies.
For one, studying from videos works far better than studying from lectures. When you learn from lectures, you …
- Can only learn the material once. If you didn’t absorb what the speaker was saying the first time, there’s no way to review it.
- Have to sit through material you already know. If a lecturer spends 15 minutes talking about things you already know, your brain tends to “turn off.” If your brain turns off, it’s much more difficult to take in material that you don’t know.
- Don’t know what you need to study. Most lecturers just blast through the material in a monotone way. They don’t explain what the most important points to pay attention to are.
Studying from video allows you to:
- Engage your whole brain, which increases retention. Only studying from a text book only activates the linguistic part of your brain. Watching videos stimulates both visual and auditory neural pathways.
- Study at your own pace. Instead of going at the lecturer’s pace, you go at the pace that makes sense for you.
- Re-watch segments that you didn’t catch the first time. You can easily rewind and rewatch any segment as many times as you want. It’s like having your own private tutor to explain anything you don’t understand, as many times as you need until it sticks.
- It’s easy to skip things you know, so you can only focus on the things you need to work on.
Students with access to CPC materials in video form almost always do better than students just studying from textbooks or from lecture notes.
Advanced Note Taking Strategies To Use While Studying For Your CPC Certification Exam
Not having the right markers in your manuals is like trying to navigate your home town using a global atlas. It’s impossible to zoom in on the real information you need. Ideally, your manuals should be marked so you can quickly find any information you need, even in the high pressure environment of the CPC exam.
Perhaps the best system for doing this is the “Bubble and Highlight” technique. This technique increases retention by changing your reading from “passive reading” to “active reading.” More of your brain is engaged when you’re deliberately taking notes. In addition to improving memory, you also have an easy to navigate manual that you can refer to during the exam itself.
These are some of the many reasons I recommend Lauren Jandroep, a CPC test specialist who specializes in helping future medical coders pass their exams on the first try. She’s been teaching for over 10 years and has helped medical coders get certified for both the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Her entire system is video based. You get over nine hours of study material. She covers every topic you need to know about, from medical terminology to modifiers to the anesthesiology, radiology and other specific exam sections.
Her system includes monthly Q&A calls, as well as an in depth explanation of the “Bubble and Highlight” note taking technique. For students who’re committed to passing the medical coding and billing exam, there is no better resource.