My blog is over six years old! Seriously, I just checked. In the last six years as I’ve put myself out there as the Coder Coach, I’ve spoken either personally, over the phone, or via email to hundreds – okay, it’s really probably dozens – of coders and tried to answer their questions about what it takes to be a coder. I’ve been amazed at how those answers have changed since then, from the evolution of technology, which allows most coders to work remotely to finally seeing ICD-10 come to fruition. So I figure it’s about time I published my top 10 list: the most cringe-worthy things people say when they tell me they want to be a coder.
Don’t get me wrong. My intent is not to put anyone off, but over the last six years, this coding thing has really caught on and I wouldn’t want to steer anyone into a career that isn’t right for them. So take a moment to read through the list and decide if you’re guilty of any of these. Since David Letterman’s Late Show is no longer a thing, consider this my replacement Top Ten List.
And before you get upset, please read the sign: I’m not arguing, I’m just explaining why I’m right. In other words, I’m being a coder (occupational hazard).
Number 10:Which type of coder pays the most?
Answer: A really good one. Focus your efforts on landing a job and then mastering it. If you choose your work setting solely for making money, you may find yourself miserable and (maybe) sort of well off. If you choose to follow your passion, the possibilities – and pay check – are pretty much endless. Employers are willing to pay good money for really good coders who don’t complain about how much they hate their jobs. I don’t actually do any hiring, but if I did, I would hire the hungry novice coder with a good attitude and a willingness to learn over the experienced grouchy coder who seems to hate her job.
Number 9: Should I be a hospital or physician coder?
Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers? The answer is in that movie when Jack Palance says the meaning to life is “one thing.” Billy Crystal asks him, with great interest, what that one thing is. The answer: that’s what you’ve gotta figure out. You and only you can decide which setting is right for you and there is no right or wrong answer. I love getting an inpatient hospital chart and trying to figure out the latest surgical procedures and how to code them. I would rather poke my eyes out with a dull pencil than assign an E/M level to a physician’s chart. I know other coders who love E/M coding. It’s like being a cat person or a dog person. You will probably find that you like one more than the other and there is no wrong answer (unless you are not a cat person, and then we can’t be friends anymore).
Number 8: No one will hire me with the coding credential I have; they all want something else
This is probably going to sting a bit, so brace yourself. Why did you pay to get credential without first looking at local job postings and doing some research? If you are reading this before going to school or getting certified, then do your homework before you pay any money to any educational institution. All kinds of people will tell you anything to get your money. Only local employers will be honest about what credentials they want.
Number 7: Where can I get free continuing education credits?
Free CEUs are out there, you just have to look for them. Most AAPC local chapters offer free monthly educational sessions. There are opportunities to summarize articles and get credit. Coding Clinic offers a quarterly webinar that is free. Other organizations offer free CEU credits. Do an internet search and you may be surprised what you will find. Did you do something, like attend grand rounds at a hospital, that you thought was very educational but you don’t have a certificate? Contact the certifying body and see if they will grant you CEUs for it.
Number 6: I can’t afford to join AHIMA or AAPC
This one might sting too. Find a way to make it happen. As far as I’m concerned, when I hear this, it tells me you don’t want it bad enough. Granted, I started very young and was still living at home when I first joined AHIMA, but make no mistake, I worked hard to get where I am today. Find a way to afford that membership and show people you are serious about a coding career. And if you have a credential through and let your membership lapse, you likely lose the credential. You worked hard for that credential – don’t let it go.
Number 5: This is my second (or third) career; I can’t afford to start at the bottom
This is a great second or third career for people who discover they missed their passion until later in life. But here’s the reality: you still likely have to start at the bottom. I’ve seen people find their way into coding by some very unusual means, but the ones who make it are the tenacious ones who won’t take no for an answer. Pretty much no one starts out in their dream coding job. You will have to pay your dues. And please don’t think that means I can’t appreciate your experience in your previous profession. There are definitely things you can bring to the table, but remember that in coding, you are a novice. I’m a great coder, but I’m pretty sure if I decided to change careers tomorrow and become an aerospace engineer, there would be a bit of a learning curve.
Number 4: Will you mentor me?
It’s an innocent question and I’m flattered. Really. But I decided a long time ago that I would mentor from afar by penning this blog. I don’t have a consistent schedule to be able to spend a lot of quality one-on-one time mentoring. But if you email me a specific question, I will do my best to answer it. My advice is to find someone local to mentor you. Ask them if they can meet you once a month for lunch and come prepared. What are the questions you want answers to? What challenges have they had in their career that they wish someone would have told them when they were getting started? This is a great entry into your local coding network.
Number 3: I went to school for (fill in the blank) months/years and I’m certified; I’m qualified to be a coder anywhere
No. You’re really not. I went to school too for two years and let me just tell you that even though I learned some good fundamentals, the real coding world is nothing like I thought it would be. I learned everything I really needed to know about being a coder on the job, not in school. I’ve now been coding for more than 20 years and I hold four different certifications and I have a news flash for you: I am not qualified to code anywhere. I lack the practical experience of a physician office coder. I find coding radiation oncology charts waaaaaayyyy outside my comfort zone. And please don’t ask me to fill out an IRF-PAI for inpatient rehabilitation. In other words, after 20 years, I am not all that and a bag of chips, so please don’t insult the world of experienced coders by thinking you have this all figured out. I learn something new each. and. every. day. Keep an open mind and be willing to learn – and admit when you’re in over your head. Natural curiosity and a willingness to learn is a good thing. Acting too big for your britches is not.
Number 2: How can I get experience if no one will hire an inexperienced coder?
I would give anything if people would stop asking me this question. Because honestly, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what your background is. I don’t know what your aptitude for coding is – and it is a skill that many people don’t possess. I don’t know where you’ve applied or how hard you’ve tried to sell yourself. And probably most importantly, I don’t have a clue what it’s like to try to get a job today because the atmosphere is so different from 20 years ago. But this is what I do know. Don’t limit yourself to coding jobs. Find a job – any job – that will require you to have coding knowledge. When you do an online job search, search on the code sets (ICD-10 or CPT) and not the word coder. There are so many jobs out there that revolve around coding that aren’t traditional coding jobs. Getting your foot in the door is one step closer to getting that traditional coding job – or something even better than you ever imagined. And don’t forget to network. If you want to work with coders, surround yourself with coders. Who you know may be your golden ticket.
And the Number 1 Cringe-Worthy Thing Wannabe Coders Say is: I want to be a coder because I want to work from home
AACK!!!! Not a good lead in! And if this is the first statement out of your mouth when you go into an interview, you probably won’t get hired because here’s a huge industry secret: hiring managers hate hearing that’s why you’re there. It’s like going on a first date with someone you just met and gushing about how badly you want to get married and have 6 kids. It’s just not done. If this is the real reason you want to be a coder, please re-evaluate. Coding is a great career if you love it. If you don’t love it, you will be miserable for 8 hours every day. And if you are miserable at home for 8 hours a day, that can be really depressing. Also think about the child care aspect. I often hear people say they want to work from home because they can’t afford child care. Many coding contracts require you to have child care in place. Coding takes intense concentration and you can’t babysit a kid at the same time. Working from home is a great perk, I will admit, but it is not the reason I have the job I have. I refer you back to Number 10 above: follow your passion. If you’re lucky, you can make some good money while you do what you love… from home… in your bathrobe.