My Career Step: Marian Cook

Marian Cook

Marian's Goals

  • Find a career that's portable for a military spouse
  • Go back to school and find a career that she could truly enjoy

Benefits of her Career Step Education

  • Extensive support from experienced instructors the entire way
  • Flexible online training offering the opportunity to learn at her pace
  • Preparation for the CPC national certification exam

Returning to School

I found Career Step and medical coding by chance. When my husband received orders for our new duty station in San Diego, California I had to leave my job in Virginia, which meant saying goodbye to friends and a job I enjoyed. My boss tried to find a position in California for me to transfer into, but because the economy was just beginning to slow there wasn’t anything available—so I was starting new again. We arrived in California early in July 2008, and I struggled to find friends and things to do. My son was in high school and not needing Mom as much, so I decided that this might be my opportunity to return to school and do something for me.

As a military spouse, I’ve always tried to take advantage of all the benefits offered to families. I began my hunt for career training by looking at programs for spouses. I found a group called Operation Life Transformed that offered scholarships for spouses who had to resign from their jobs due to a PCS (permanent change of station). That fit me perfectly, so I filled out the application, sent in a copy of my husband’s orders and waited to hear back.

I submitted my application in October 2008, but the holidays came and went and by January I still hadn’t heard anything. I sent a quick email checking on my application and received a reply prompting me to browse through their website to get an idea of what type of career I was looking for and apply for a scholarship. At the time, most of the scholarships they were awarding were for medical transcription and medical coding. Having only two choices made the decision easy; I knew I didn’t want to do transcription, which meant I was applying for medical coding. I was approved for a scholarship and started my classes February 11, 2009 with Career Step and Fayetteville Technical Community College.

Studying with Career Step

I knew online classes required dedication and discipline, and I was that person. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom, volunteering at my son’s school (but high school didn’t demand a lot of my time), which allowed me to progress through the program fairly quick. During the first few months, I logged onto the forums a couple times and sent a few questions to my advisor at the community college. In July, my advisor forwarded one of my questions to Cari, a coding instructor at Career Step. From that point forward, Cari was my support. I would email her when I felt overwhelmed, couldn’t grasp a concept, or just needed some encouraging words. We set up phone conferences once a week to check in and work through my problem spots.

I started the program in February and took my final exams on September 4 and 5. You would think that finishing the program and thinking about taking my CPC exam would be a time of excitement, and it was, but it was also one of the hardest parts of my training. My husband left for Afghanistan at this time, and although I felt prepared for my CPC exam, I was so nervous when I actually took the exam in November that I choked for time. I emailed Cari as soon as I got home saying, “I just know I didn’t pass!” I remember her telling me not to beat myself up or berate myself while I waited for my results, just wait and see what the outcome was. I missed by nine questions.
After a little time to regroup, I did go on to take the CPC exam a second time. In February 2010, I earned the CPC-A designation through the AAPC. Career Step’s classes and modules helped me prepare for the CPC exam, and Cari was there to help me study and cheer me on the whole way.

Making My Training Count: My Career Progression

Shortly after I began school, I started volunteering as a Pink Lady at Sharp Coronado Hospital. I knew being in a hospital environment would benefit me during and after my training. I also joined the local chapter of the AAPC. I would attend the AAPC chapter’s monthly meetings as well as the hospital’s monthly luncheons to network, letting everyone know that I was in school for medical coding. I asked Cari if I should specialize in a particular field, work in a hospital or a physician’s office, to explain externships, her opinion on attending chapter events—I wanted her advice on everything.

Upon graduating and earning my CPC-A designation, I set out to work off my apprenticeship and update my resume. I sent out over 100 resumes to every physician’s office on the Island and signed up with a temp agency. I, of course, got few replies—everyone wanted someone with experience, certainly not an apprentice with less than a year. At the hospital, I begged the volunteer coordinator to help me get volunteer hours in the Medical Records department, only to be told, “Sorry, but NO.” But that didn’t stop me; I was determined to get into that department to start my career. Finally, that day came. I called the HIM Manager to thank her for a few employment leads she had passed my way, and I, again, mentioned to please remember me if she ever needed help in the department. She said, “As a matter of fact, I have someone out on medical leave and another on maternity leave. When can you come in?” I started that Friday (this was in October 2009). Volunteering in the hospital got my foot in the door. On August 2, 2010, I became an employee working per diem three days a week. Within six months, I was working part time, and on October 10, 2011 I was offered the full-time position I currently hold: EMR (electronic medical records) Physician Liaison and Clinical Coding Spec I at Sharp Coronado Hospital.

My next professional goal is to earn my RHIT, which requires an associate degree in Health Information Management—so I’m headed back to school this June. The Career Step training program made all of this possible by giving me the tools I needed to take that first step. The course is detailed, the support is there, the mentoring gives you the confidence to move through the course and finish, and the follow-up afterwards is exceptional—everything from tweaking your resume to job shopping to interview etiquette. Career Step wants to see you succeed and truly helps you get started down the path to success!

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