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How to Become a Medical Coder with No Experience: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Written by Lauren Ambrosio on Thursday, 08 June 2023. Posted in Career, Healthcare

Man in blue scrubs with headset in medical office.

Job opportunities are no longer solely defined by formal education or years of experience. A prime example of this is the field of medical coding. Despite seeming like a specialized profession, you can enter into it even without prior experience!. This guide will help you understand how to become a medical coder when you don’t have professional experience. Let's dive in.

5 Essential steps to get a medical coding job without experience

1. Use your relevant job, school, and volunteer experience

Just because you haven't worked as a medical coder before doesn't mean your past experiences aren't valuable. Think about the skills you gained in previous jobs that can translate to medical coding. Here are some examples of non-medical roles and the skills you learned that could help in a medical coding job:

  • Data entry: Medical coding involves a lot of data entry. Experience in roles that require speed and accuracy in data entry can be very valuable.
  • Administrative or secretarial: These roles often involve managing records, multitasking, and excellent organizational skills. They also require a level of professionalism and discretion that is important in a medical setting.
  • Customer service or call center: These jobs require strong communication and problem-solving skills. If you've had to explain complicated policies or procedures to customers, you've likely developed the ability to present complex information in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.
  • Coding or IT: If you have a background in non-medical coding or IT, you'll likely have an easier time learning medical coding software and troubleshooting any technical issues.
  • Accounting or finance: Experience in these roles often comes with a familiarity with billing procedures and attention to detail, both of which are crucial in medical coding.
  • Teaching or tutoring: These roles demonstrate the ability to break down complex ideas into understandable concepts, which can be useful when interacting with other healthcare staff.

When transitioning to a medical coding role from a different field, the key is to focus on the transferrable skills you've gained from past experiences. Make sure to highlight these skills in your resume and during interviews to show potential employers how they can be applied to a medical coding role.

Learn more: Medical Billing & Coding Day in the Life

2. Highlight your soft skills

Employers value personality and character as much as hard skills. Showcase soft skills such as attention to detail, communication skills, problem-solving, and a capacity for learning new things.

How should you include soft skills on your resume?

  • If you have hobbies that require a keen eye such as crafting, Lego building, or baking, these can show your capacity for precision and attention to detail.
  • Do you enjoy solving puzzles or playing strategic games? These activities can demonstrate your problem-solving abilities—a handy skill when interpreting complex medical records.
  • Personal interest in technology, like coding, website design, or even being the go-to tech support in your family, can prove your comfort with computer systems. This is useful, as medical coding requires regular use of specialized software.
  • If you're someone who enjoys planning events, maintaining a garden, or keeping a detailed bullet journal, you’re showcasing your ability to organize efficiently. This is highly valuable in medical coding where you'll be handling a large number of patient records.
  • A personal interest in health, wellness, or medical TV shows might demonstrate a passion for the field. This could set you apart from other candidates as it shows you're likely to be engaged and committed to your work.
  • Speaking a second language can be beneficial in healthcare settings that serve diverse populations. If you're bilingual or multilingual, make sure to include this on your resume.
  • If you're an avid reader, a fan of educational podcasts, or enjoy taking online courses in your free time, this can underscore your ability to learn independently - a valuable trait for keeping up with changes in medical coding practices.

Resume tip! Use the words or phrases in bold on your resume. Be sure to link these skills and interests directly to the job requirements when crafting your resume or cover letter. This makes it easier for potential employers to see how your unique skill set could benefit their team and can often offset your lack of specific medical coding experience.

3. Start from the ground up

Consider starting with entry- level positions at a healthcare organization. These roles can offer valuable exposure to the industry, enabling you to understand the ins and outs of medical coding while gaining practical experience. Here are some entry -level medical industry jobs:

  • Medical receptionist: You would get exposure to medical terminology and administrative tasks, and might even be able to assist with some coding tasks.
  • Medical billing clerk: In this role, you’d be handling billing paperwork and ensuring that the healthcare facility is properly reimbursed for services. This role will give you a good understanding of the insurance process and how medical codes are used in billing.
  • Medical records clerk: As a medical records clerk, you would be responsible for maintaining and organizing patient records. This can provide a useful introduction to the types of documents and information that medical coders work with.
  • Medical transcriptionist: This role involves listening to recordings from medical professionals and converting them into written reports, often requiring the use of medical terminology and shorthand. It offers a good foundation for understanding medical documentation.
  • Medical assistant: You would be hands-on with patient care but also perform administrative duties. Exposure to a variety of medical procedures and terminology could be beneficial when transitioning to a coding role.
  • Health information technician: This role involves managing and organizing health information data. While it typically requires some specialized education, it is a role that can lead directly into a career in medical coding.

Learn more: Medical Assistant vs Medical Coder: Which is Right for You?

While in these roles, you could work towards earning your certification in medical coding. This would demonstrate to employers that you have the necessary knowledge for a coding position, and it can often be obtained while you are gaining experience in one of these entry-level roles.

4. Learn important medical knowledge now

Employers may look for candidates with ICD (International Classification of Diseases) codes, CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes, and HCPCS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System) codes. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with human anatomy and physiology. You can study the codes and mention your familiarity with them on your resume.

Knowledge is power. Stay current with industry trends by subscribing to medical coding e-newsletters, joining a medical coding Facebook group or Subreddit, or pursuing certifications.

Learn more: Earn your medical coding professional certification for under $2,000 at Ashworth College.

5. Develop additional skills and certifications

Beyond medical coding skills, you can make yourself more marketable by becoming proficient in related areas such as Excel, data entry, and healthcare administration. Pursuing relevant certifications can also make you a more competitive candidate.

Medical coding certifications

If your end-goal is to become a medical coder, then a step to achieving that goal is to obtain one of the above certifications. Depending on the healthcare organization where you work–or want to work–they may want you to receive a specific certification or bundle of certs. Reach out to your current employer’s hiring department to make sure you know what certifications and skills you’ll need. If you don’t work in healthcare or your facility doesn't have in-house medical coders, a good place to find out job requirements is to check out job listings on Indeed or LinkedIn.

Learn more: Which Healthcare Certifications Pay the Most

Other certifications to boost your qualifications

While the following certifications can make your resume stand out, they are not a replacement for specific medical coding certifications and experience:

Make sure to carefully review the job description for any coding role you apply for, as different employers might value different certifications.

Don’t meet all the qualifications? Apply anyway!

When it comes to applying for jobs, it’s a numbers game. The more jobs you apply for, the more likely you are to get an interview. And, the more interviews you have, the more likely you are to get a job  offer. There are tons of reasons to apply for a medical coding job even if you don’t feel ‘ready:’

  1. The job description describes the ‘perfect’ candidate, which may not actually exist. Hiring managers are aware that they're likely to hire someone who meets most, but not all, of the listed requirements.
  2. You may have skills or experiences from different areas that are applicable to the job in question. Sometimes, these transferable skills can make up for a lack of specific qualifications.
  3. If you can demonstrate a capacity for learning and adapting, an employer may see you as a valuable investment, even if you lack some qualifications.
  4. Soft skills are more valuable than hard skills! If you share some of your soft skills, you may be a strong candidate even without meeting all the hard skill requirements.
  5. Sometimes, a genuine passion for the role or the company can outweigh a lack of certain qualifications. Employers value candidates who are motivated and excited about the job.
  6. Even if you don't land the job, you may make valuable contacts through the application and interview process, which could lead to opportunities down the line. The healthcare industry employees over 18 million individuals, and more opportunities arise every day.

The goal is not to misrepresent your abilities, but to present yourself as a capable and promising candidate, even if you don't check every box. It's also important to focus on the essential qualifications: if a job requires a specific certification or years of experience that you don't have, it might be a hard requirement, and applying without them may not yield positive results. But apply anyway! You don’t know what their applicant pool looks like, and your other qualifications may make you stand out even among more qualified candidates.

Is it hard to get a medical coding job without experience?

The job market has openings for certified coding positions and non certified medical coders. Non certified coders are exactly that: entry-to-mid level medical coders working in larger healthcare organizations. Non certified coders play a valuable role within any medical facility.

What is the easiest medical coding job?

Entry-level jobs, like non-certified medical coder, coding assistant, or medical records clerk, are good places to start. You can also search for jobs that involve aspects of medical coding, such as data entry and transcription roles in healthcare organizations.

Now, start applying for jobs!

Taking the leap to become a medical coder without experience might seem daunting, but with the right mindset, it can be possible. Just remember, your value isn't solely determined by formal education or years of experience, but also by your character, adaptability, and commitment to learn.

So why wait? Begin your journey towards becoming a medical coder today, and remember, Ashworth College is here to support you every step of the way. Check out our Ashworth College Medical Coding Program to take the first step toward learning the medical billing and coding skills that could help you stand out when you’re applying for jobs!

Let's talk about your educational goals. Call 1-800-957-5412