When I began my journey into medical office careers five years ago, I have to admit that I chose Career Step without doing a ton of research. I had started working reception at large medical group but knew I needed to improve my earning power. I enrolled in Career Step’s online medical coding and billing program simply because the curriculum looked great and my employer had heard of the company. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I met others doing the course, in student forums, and afterwards in my new department. I encountered quite a few unfortunate coders who had wasted precious time and money on “scammy” online programs that did not adequately prepare them for the AAPC and AHIMA certification exams. These exams are not easy and any to-good-to-true program that costs significantly less than a real curriculum, or claims to prepare you in a few short weeks is going to result in a failed certification exam.
Part of the confusion is that there is no official accrediting body for medical coding programs, that’s how all the fly-by-night online programs thrive. A true program provides a background preparation in health information management, plus medical terminology and anatomy, and finally, the actual coding part of the education is more than just memorizing codes. I found the best thing about Career Step’s curriculum is that you need to complete 80 hours of coding practicum using REAL medical records from one of their partners. This is what ultimately prepares you for the exams (and a job). If you can devote yourself to full-time study, you MAY complete the Career Step program in less than 6 months. Personally, it took me 9 months working an average of 15-20 hours per week.
The other option I considered (and would still recommend people look into) was community college. My local one looked like a great program, but it would have required 2 years to complete and about $8,000 more than Career Step. Plus I would not have been able to keep my current job because I would have to attend classes during the day. I’ve also seen community colleges that offer a shorter certificate option, but those are still going to require classroom attendance at times that might not be ideal for you. The most important thing to remember is to look to established educators for your training whether you choose to do it online or at a brick-and-mortar school. If you need lots of face to face teacher time, or have trouble motivating yourself, you may need to go a more traditional route. But if you really need flexibility in your schedule and want to finish without debt, Career Step does provide you access to teachers for questions and they have a lively, helpful student forum where everyone bounces ideas off of one another and encourages each other, so you’re not working in total isolation. I made several very good friends this way.
Career Step has been around for over 25 years preparing professionals for a variety of fields; their name is recognized by large employers, and some companies and universities actually use the Career Step program for training medical coders. The curriculum was written by top-level AHIMA consultants and is constantly being updated and improved. The tuition cost for all their programs includes a voucher to take one nationally-recognized exam (worth hundreds of dollars). For the Medical Coding and Billing, tuition also includes all the industry coding books, access to 3M encoding software, a student AHIMA membership, 12 months’ access to the learning materials, plus career support after graduation. Their career support will help you with resumes, cover letters, and interview techniques. Career Step is also partnered with a large healthcare staffing agency to help you get leads on jobs.
When making your final choice, be honest with yourself about your own personal learning style. Then take into account your timeline for your career change and your budget. Speaking of budget, Career Step does offer payment plans, and their programs are eligible for MyCAA funding which is available to some military spouses.
P. S. Full disclosure: All Career Step students are given a referral number so that they can refer people to the program if they’re happy with their experience. Many will share with their Facebook friends and the like. Since I wanted to start this blog to help people like me who were jumping into the field with absolutely no idea what they are doing, I have chosen to include them in my links. If you choose to register through my referral links, I do receive a small referral fee that will help me pay for hosting this blog, plus you will also get free shipping on all your books and materials, no matter what program you enroll in. Edited to add: Right now Career Step is also offering a $300 egift card when you enroll by September 6th!