Job Prospects for a Certified Coder: AAPC vs. AHIMA

aapc vs ahimaCareer is something on the mind of any medical coder who is deliberating on certification study. It is a given in medical coding that those who are certified have a wide range of opportunity in the years to come. The profession itself is a growth area of the American economy and the prospects for the future look quite promising. The question becomes which certification holds the best chance for securing the ideal job.

To begin with, there are two certifying associations in medical coding: The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) The AHIMA is the older of the two, created in 1928, and the AAPC has been in existence since 1988. Both have a reputation for promoting high standards of professionalism. The AAPC programs are typically four months long and the AHIMA will require approximately two semesters of study. The primary difference is that the AAPC examination focuses on physician and outpatient coding, and the AHIMA certification examination concentrates on inpatient and outpatient coding. The AAPC requires two years of experience prior to taking the examination to earn the full CPC credential (the CPC-A, for apprentice, is awarded to a person who lacks the experience but has successfully completed the examination). The AHIMA recommends experience, but does not require it prior to the examination.

Job Prospects for a Certified Coder:

AAPC Certified Coder vs. AHIMA Certified Coder

The AAPC is more about outpatient and physician coding, while the AHIMA looks to both inpatient and outpatient coding. Almost immediately a contest between which is better can erupt and that isn’t very productive. Both certifying associations promote and expect competence; neither is a get-certified-quick operation. Job prospects, whether which one gains more employer attention than the other, can be quickly surmised by a search on an employment related website (e.g. or That being said, the question that a medical coder has to ponder is one of profession vs. job. Is certification being sought to further a career or not? That must be answered individually by the medical coder.

Job content is a crucial part of the answer. Too many people are more concerned about just landing a position and getting a paycheck. There is nothing wrong with that, but job satisfaction is derived largely from the tasks being performed. If a job seeker looks at a position’s responsibilities and likes what is there, then checking to see what certification is needed is the next step. On the job, experience as a medical coder may reveal which direction should be taken. It may be that a person is more comfortable as an outpatient coder, or perhaps has an inclination towards physician services coding. The certification path chosen is the one that will lead to a career that is most satisfying to the individual.

Medical Coding is a profession with a lot of possibilities…

Keep in mind that medical coding is a profession with a lot of possibilities, both now and in the immediate future. It is possible that a medical coder may want to seek a number of certifications offered by either, and that is not a problem provided the basic requirements are met (N.B. the Registered Health Information Administrator, RHIA, offered by the AHIMA does require a baccalaureate from an approved program). What is essential is that a medical coder seeks the certification that best helps the career path that he or she decides to pursue.

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13 thoughts on “Job Prospects for a Certified Coder: AAPC vs. AHIMA”

  1. Question
    The post says that the AHIMA requires a BA degree from an approved program
    What is “an approved program”
    I hold a BA in Psychogy and an
    MBA in Accounting
    Is there a specific subject or concentration
    requirement for the BA required
    Thank you
    Rebecca Belcher

    • Hi Rebecca – AHIMA has an approved list of schools it works with that have a RHIA program. I don’t think your degrees would transfer but perhaps some of the credits would. You’d have to find an RHIA school – check the AHIMA website. And just to clarify you don’t need any BA etc. degree for their coding credentials just the RHIA type credentials. has more detail.

      • Hi laureen ,

        im debating on whether to take the basic coding program through AHIMA to then sit for the CCA exam or should i take the course elsewhere. The other school i can take an online course is San Diego State. In order to pass the CCA , do you recommend just oging through AHIMA for their online self taught course or another school that offers basic coding ?

        One more thing. The Coding Basics program through AHIMA is 15 months, do you know of another program online based that is much quicker especially if i am doing this full time?

  2. I have a question which is better getting my cpc or my ccs. I work for an health insurance company most of my friends th as that process claims have there cpc. I was in a rhit orogram but I really didn’t like it. I just want to be a coder. You had to take a lot of other classes before you could even take the coding classes.

  3. I have been a medical transcriptionist for 20 years and am looking to change my career path to medical coding in an outpatient setting. I am looking for clarification of your statement that AAPC requires two years of experience before taking the exam. However, as I have reviewed the jobs available on Career Builder (as an example) most facilities are looking for a coder who is certified. How do I get two years of coding experience without the certification? Currently, the AAPC website is offering a special for the month of November for training as a outpatient coder which includes the coding classes, three practice exams and the certification exam as a packaged deal as well as membership in AAPC. Is this a different type of certification exam than what you are referring to? Thank you.

    • AAPC does not require two years experience to TAKE the exam they require it to not have the -A appened to your credential – CPC vs. CPC-A – the -A means you are considered an apprentice. We can match the AAPC special and we use their curriculum – please contact for details.

  4. I am a teacher thinking about changing my career to be a medical coder. I am confused as well as to which certification is better. I don’t want the apprentice or associate cert, I want the full CCS or CPC. If you complete AAPCs program or Career Steps program, can I take the full certification test and not just the apprentice?

  5. It is really up to each person and the hours they decide they want to work.
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  6. Hi. I’m just not sure which direction to go with my HIM career now. I learned coding from a mentor in 2008. By early 2009 I was hired as a traveling coder doing diagnostic, physician-based work despite not being credentialed yet.

    In the spring of 2010, this 3rd-party reimbursement company closed their business. I tried twice to pass the CPC exam but failed both times. I’ve not been able to get another coding job because of this. Since then, I’ve taken a course with the government’s HiTech Workforce program for Practice Workflow Information Management, and I’ve taken an online course in ICD-10. I continue to review my medical terminology and anatomy.

    Should I take an official course in medical coding to review and assure I test well? (I know my coding and love this field, but I believe I do have test anxiety.) Or should I self-study and go right into trying for the exam again? I’d like to focus on CCA with AHIMA.


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