Making a Career Change: Laura Neidlinger

My journey toward training for a career as a coding professional began when I needed to ensure I had a viable career after I was separated, and I knew a profession in healthcare would be a financially stable choice.

I worked for many years as an administrative assistant and was good at it, but I really wanted a change moving forward. I had always been interested in the medical field; I was the healthcare advocate for my father who had multiple medical issues. I liked learning about illness, pathophysiology, and treatment, but I didn’t want to commit to nursing or additional science courses beyond what I had already learned.

I was accepted into a Radiologic Technology program at my local community college in the summer of 2013 while working part-time for the local community hospital, with the hope that I would be hired after I completed the RadTech course and certification. Even though I did extremely well in the first semester, I, thankfully, realized it wasn’t a good fit for me.

I stumbled upon the medical coding and billing profession by accident—I had no idea this field even existed! Since I had decided RadTech wasn’t what I wanted to do, I searched the hospital’s career page for other positions that would give me opportunities for advancement and provide a good fit for my skills and abilities. I found an “HIM Coding Intern” description, researched what a coder does, and went looking for a place to learn how to do it. What appealed to me about the coding profession was reading documents, piecing together information about a patient, and turning it into another language—the codes. I also appreciated how important this profession is to so many other departments and organizations.

Choosing Career Step
Soon after looking at the hospital’s career page and learning about medical coding and billing, a community college non-credit brochure arrived. Perhaps it was fate, because this is where I learned about Career Step’s Medical Coding and Billing course!

Career Step offered a professional, local, informative presentation. I evaluated what Career Step offered in terms of learning flexibility, close proximity (home!), and affordability. Career Step met all of these requirements. I investigated other schools, but the fact that Career Step was associated with our award-winning community college and the course was comprehensive, online, and approved by an accredited organization (AHIMA) left no question that Career Step was the right choice.

While I was completing the training, I had a college-age child living at home and I worked part time (24-32 hours a week). I was fortunate to have the luxury of working only part time so I could focus time and effort on completing the course. I was able to study 4-6 hours a day, sometimes more if I wanted to finish a section. If I hadn’t been working though, I know I could have finished the course sooner.

Progressing Through the Training
During the course, I found the student forums very helpful in working through problems as well as for unparalleled moral support! It does take dedication and time management to work on your own, but I had previously operated a home-based business with deadlines so it came fairly easy for me. Student Support’s help via email was invaluable because I could save and review their responses to my questions. Responses were fairly quick and detailed, so I could learn why my answer was wrong. I still have these emails just in case I need them!

A low point during the course for me was trudging through the Anatomy and Physiology and Medical Terminology sections. I had already taken these as college credit courses and passed with honors, but I knew it was an important part of the program. I also had a hard time when I would get the wrong answers on the E/M and practicum sections. However, the student forums said this would be the case, so I focused on using the many errors as learning experiences. In the end, the practicum section of the course was a real high point for me. This is where I put everything I learned to work—even though it was difficult, it felt like the real deal.

Graduating and Landing a Job
I finished the course in about 15 months—I started the ICD-10 training in October 2013 and finished with ICD-9 in late December 2014. I took the AHIMA CCA exam in January and passed with a score of 381/400. Two of those 15 months were non-productive though, as I took the opportunity to travel internationally for several of my children’s activities for a month and spent the other month dealing with the consequences of a building fire and subsequent water damage to my home and had to relocate quickly. The first things I took were my laptop, with my course notes, my Career Step books, and my two cats!

I applied for the Coding Intern position at my hospital on February 2, just 2 days after passing the CCA exam (a minimum certification requirement). It took 3 weeks and a couple of phone calls and emails before I got a response from the Human Resource department. I took a coding assessment for the HIM Department and found out 3 days later I’d passed with flying colors! A few days later I met with the HIM Coding Manager for an interview, and I was offered the job on the spot just a little more than a month after I applied.

The Career Step course prepared me for employment as an entry-level coder. In fact, the Coding Manager wants to start me beyond the usual entry-level charts because of my knowledge, and she was delighted that I had comprehensive ICD-10 training. Career Step’s training combined with my hard work and diligence to master the material qualified me as valuable candidate for a coding position.

I have recommended Career Step many times to other colleagues in the hospital who have expressed interest because of what they have seen me accomplish, and I share with them the many career option in this field. When I recommend Career Step I make sure to mention the flexibility, student support, forums, chats, and the overall instruction presentation of the course.

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