Category: Certification

How to Get Certified in Medical Coding


What certification do I need?

While requirements for individual healthcare employers will vary, nearly all of them will require at least one credential from the AAPC or AHIMA, the two professional organizations that administer certification exams.

Entry level coding jobs will require a CPC (certified professional coder from the AAPC) or CCS (certified coding specialist from AHIMA).

To get an idea of what certification you will need, it can be helpful to view local job listings to see what major healthcare employers in your area are looking for.

The path to certification

To be eligible to take the AAPC or AHIMA certification exams you must satisfy certain educational requirements. For example, the CCS exam requires applicants to have completed a coding training program that includes anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, intermediate/advanced ICD diagnostic/procedural and CPT coding.

There are a variety of educational options to prepare you for medical coding certification.

Your local community college may have an associate’s degree or certificate programs in various areas of Health Information Technology.

The AAPC and AHIMA offer online educational programs geared towards helping you pass their certification exams. They advise you that these are not comprehensive programs and you will need to supplement your training with anatomy & physiology, medical terminology and reimbursement methodology and other health information management topics. In comparing the cost of these programs to online professional training schools like Career Step, the AHIMA and AAPC programs may seem cheaper at first glance, but once you add in the supplemental courses needed and the cost of books (which is included with Career Step’s tuition) their programs are actually similarly priced.

A variety of online schools offer medical coding programs. It is important to evaluate these programs carefully to be sure you choose a comprehensive program that can qualify you to sit for the certification exams.  Career Step has a complete curriculum that was written by AHIMA consultants and includes a thorough practicum to prepare students to succeed on the certification exams. Any program that promises you’ll be ready for the certification exams in a matter of weeks, or that only costs a few hundred dollars is unfortunately a scam that is all too common in this field. Training to become a medical coder is not a simple process, to get your CPC or CCS credential, you will need to dedicate yourself to significant study to pass the challenging exams.

Comparing your options

Community colleges are a perfect option for traditional learners who thrive in a classroom setting and have the time to attend school full-time for two years. The main benefit of the community college option is that it often requires a semester or two of an internship which will further prepare you for the certification exams and possibly get your foot in the door with an employer.

The downside of the community college option is it will cost an average $8-10,000 depending on your school’s tuition and number or credits required.

Community colleges may not work for those who are currently employed, or have young children at home and looking towards a career change. You may need to attend classes and internships during business hours.

Online courses are ideal for those who are self-motivated and want to study in the evenings or weekends. An online course gives you the flexibility to work at your own pace and if you work hard, finish in less than one year. Online courses also tend to be far cheaper than a two year community college program, saving you thousands of dollars. Online courses do not have an internship component, but many have job placement assistance or even partnerships with health information management companies and other employers to help you get your foot in the door. In addition, Career Step‘s program includes an extensive practicum coding real medical records which should definitely noted on your resume, especially for employers who are familiar with Career Step’s training. The AAPC also offers a practicum component; however, it is an extra fee to add this to your coursework.

Top Coding Certification Study Guides

If you’re all finished with your Medical Coding course, but still nervous about taking your certification exam, check out these study guides. Most not only include more practice questions, but also test taking strategies specific to each exam to help you maximize your score and pass the test the first time.

Here four top-rated study guides for the CCS exam and where to find them:

The 2017 Clinical Coding Workout is completely updated for 2017 and features over 1500 coding scenarios and exercises to help you develop the expertise needed to pass the CCS or CCS-P exam. This study guide includes questions for the following code sets: ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, CPT and HCPCS.


The Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) Exam Preparation by Jennifer Garvin provides an in-depth review for the CCS exam. Through case studies as well as access to online assessments and 2 complete practice exams, this book prepares you to take the CCS with confidence.


This ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS Coding Handbook is the only guide published in collaboration with the Central Office on ICD-10-CM/PCS (formerly, Central Office on ICD-9-CM) of the American Hospital Association. The handbook contains more than 200 updated in-chapter exercises, case examples, and final review questions. The case-summary exercises are based on actual health records.


The Professional Review Guide for the CCS Examination 2017 for the CCS gives you practice interpreting documentation and applying your knowledge by assigning codes to diagnoses and procedures for a variety of patient settings. It comes with mock examinations that are not the same structure as the actual CCS exam but it is still a valuable study tool.

Here are three top-rated CPC study guides and where to find them:

The CPC Practice Exam 2017 is updated for 2017. This 150 question exam is designed to mirror the AAPC CPC exam. It has the same basic structure and category divisions. Each answer includes a detailed rationale for further help with your studying.


The Medical Coding CPC Practice Exam Bundle – 2017 Edition includes a great section full of advice and test-taking strategies. In addition to a 150 question practice exam, this book includes a review of medical terminology and anatomy.


The official AAPC CP study guide has a 20 chapter review of everything from medical terminology to ICD-10 coding. It covers all sections found on the CPC exam and includes a 200 question practice exam.