Medical Coding Jobs: What Do Employers Want?

Once you have a good idea as to what employers are looking for, you will have a better idea on where to start when it comes to writing the resume, cover letter and eventually attending the interview. Do they focus on education? Do certified coders get noticed first? We interviewed several employers to find out what means the most.

What do employers want when you are looking for medical coding jobs?

Education and Certifications

Liz Wilson, CCS, RHIT, CEMC, CPMA, Director of Coding and Auditing, Compliance Officer at Healthcare Solutions of WNY, Cheektowaga, NY says that when she needs to fill a medical coder position, she focuses on candidates who have completed their coding education and are certified.

She says that when it comes to education, she typically prefers that the coder is a graduate of an associate-degree program. However, she does not discount candidates who have graduated from a 6-month coding-specific program.

“There are many of these programs available, so it is actually more likely that I will find a candidate who has no coding degree and only minimal coding education,” she says.

Melinda Kollin, Coding Manager at Anesthesia Business Consultants, headquartered in Jackson, MI, says she will also consider inexperienced candidates if they can pass a test the company gives them during an interview, and if there is an overall feeling that they are capable of doing the job and have the knowledge to do the job.

“If there are issues with their knowledge, or if they hesitate about the test or cannot answer the questions, I will not hire them,” she says. “However, if they show me, during the interview, that they are willing to learn and work hard on the items that they are not as familiar with, then I will likely hire them.”

Kollin says that it does not matter what program they have graduated from as long as they have had the coding classes and possess the knowledge to do the job.

“A CPC credential, or someone in the process of getting their CPC, will likely stand out more as well,” she says.

Carrie Young, BS, CPC, Manager, Coding Unit, Springfield Clinic, Springfield, IL, like the others, is also happy to interview someone without prior experience. She will grant an interview, check references, and determine whether or not the candidate is a good fit.

However, she does prefer someone with a certification.

“While the educational program they have graduated from does not play a big role for me, I do prefer a candidate who is AAPC certified and has perhaps done an externship,” she says.

Healthcare recruiters tend to be a different animal.

Alisha Ableson, Healthcare Recruiter, Harper Associates in Farmington Hills, MI, says that a person with no experience would not be eligible for hire through a staffing agency.

“Employers pay us a placement fee to find a seasoned candidate who needs little or no training,” she says. “Candidates would also have to fit the criteria that pertains to the specific industry (e.g., family practice, internal medicine).

As far as education goes, she says that their clients will dictate which credentials are required and they then recruit coders that match their preference.

What about Medical Coding Externships?

Externships seem to be a good way to get some experience and to build confidence.

‘Externships are helpful in developing the student’s confidence – more than the coding skills,” Wilson says.” The coding skills will sharpen with repeated practice once the student becomes employed as a coder. Externships also provide exposure to various medical-specialty coding opportunities and are most advantageous to the candidate.”

Melinda Kollin, Coding Manager at Anesthesia Business Consultants, headquartered in Jackson, MI says that an externship helps tremendously because it “helps us to know what areas to concentrate on with them as our goal is for them to succeed.”

Alisha Ableson, Healthcare Recruiter, Harper Associates in Farmington Hills, MI, reports that while an externship helps, its agency does not count that towards actual work experience.

“Normally, we require two years of “on-the-job experience” to be considered for a position,” she says.

Carrie Young, BS, CPC, Manager, Coding Unit, Springfield Clinic, Springfield, IL agrees that externships are helpful too.

“It’s certainly better than no experience at all,” she says.

What If You Have No Field Experience?

Do not fear. Employers say that experience is not the most important factor.

In fact, Wilson says that she would hire and has hired certified coders who had absolutely no prior coding experience.

“Newly-certified professionals are generally eager to learn and have no preconditioning or bad habits that come with experience,” she says. “While it is necessary to plan for training and less productivity, new coders tend not to disappoint. They are detail-oriented and often research resource articles more often than experienced coders do. Therefore, they typically familiarize themselves with the most current codes and guidelines during this steep learning curve.”

Words of Wisdom on Medical Coding Jobs

So, what advice would these employers give to a medical coder who is applying for a job at their company/practice?

Wilson says: “I would let him/her know that accuracy means more to me than speed, especially when he/she is first learning. I would suggest that the coder identify his/her areas of weakness and then start doing some coding exercises to improve on those deficiencies. I highly recommend reading the “Official ICD-9-CM Guidelines for Coding and Reporting” and to also get familiar with the AMA’s CPT guidelines for each of the six sections. Access to “CPT Assistant” is also beneficial, but the basic guidelines should be read and re-read periodically, by newcomers and experienced coders alike.

Kollin says: Pay attention to detail. Open yourself up to constructive criticism. Absorb as much as possible by taking notes, making copies and creating a book of examples. Ask as many questions as needed and communicate with your department.  The coding world changes constantly so know your profession.

Young says: Dress for success, sit up straight, and look your interviewer in the eye. Be honest about what you are searching for within a coding position because you and your potential employer want the right fit for a cheerful and productive work environment.

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