How to Become a Medical Coder

A medical coder is responsible for translating a patient's treatment into a standard medical code. The provider can be reimbursed for treatment with the code. Medical coder training can include an associate's degree and a certification.


The basic education requirement for a medical coder is a high school diploma or the equivalent. According to College Navigator, there are over four hundred programs to become a Medical Insurance Coding Specialist, and almost seventy of these programs are associate's degrees. The minimum required experience for one of the certification options for medical coders.


The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers three different medical coder certification programs: the Certified Coding Associate, the Certified Coding Specialist and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based certifications. The minimum requirement for all of these certificates is a high school diploma, though most recommend that the applicant also have some experience working as a coder. For each credential, you need to apply to take the exam and take the test at a testing center. The exams are scored immediately.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers four relevant certification programs: Certified Professional Coder, Certified Professional Coder-Hospital, Certified Professional Coder-Payer and Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder. It is recommended that the applicant has an associate's degree, as well as two years of medical coding experience. The applicant will be a member of the AAPC, pay an exam fee and pass the test for certification with each qualification.

Tips and Advice

Complete your high school diploma. The minimum educational requirement to become a medical coder is the receipt of a high school diploma, or the completion of the equivalent, such as the GED. Some employers may also ask that the applicant has completed a post-secondary certificate or an associate's degree in medical coding.

Complete additional courses relevant to health care. The AHIMA recommends that the applicants for their certification process complete courses in anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, since a knowledge of the terminology from these fields will be required by medical coders. Knowing this terminology will help an applicant if there is a proficiency test during the medical coding position interview. You can also learn or review this terminology through self-study, or by using flash cards or study aids developed for health care workers.

Take a computer course, especially using databases. The majority of work performed by a coder requires the coder to enter recognized codes into a medical database. Knowledge of computers and data entry will help you with the basic tasks of medical coding.

If you have data entry experience, ask your supervisor to provide you with a reference that discusses your organizational skills, your attention to detail and how your records are generally submitted error-free. This type of reference will help you transfer your data entry experience to medical coding, since speed and accuracy are highly desired in medical coders.


Medical coders work in hospitals and physician's offices, and some will work for insurance companies. There are also opportunities to work freelance and on a contract basis for more than one physician, or for an outsourcing firm that handles records for health care organizations.