A Comprehensive Guide to Medical Coding Certifications

Decoding Your Path

Do you still need to figure out the coding credentials you want to go after, the exams to take, or where you envision your career? You’re not alone. When I began my journey as an AMCI student with little background in healthcare, I found myself constantly learning and adapting my plans. For instance, while penning this article, I discovered that the role of coders falls under the umbrella term “Medical Records Specialists,” which also encompasses billers, auditors, practice managers, compliance officers, and more (Lee Fifield, 2023). My knowledge was initially scant when transitioning into medical coding as a second career, but my curiosity was boundless. Although I’ve had several enlightening moments, not all have been without cost.

Coming from an educational background—where I served as a music teacher, special education & curriculum supervisor, principal, and CSA/superintendent—I thought I knew something about certifications. However, the gamut of credentials in the medical coding sector far surpasses that in education. Below is a brief list I’ve compiled as I’ve explored my options.

Certification AcronymAcronym MeaningExam Sponsor
IApproved InstructorAAPC
CANPCCertified Anesthesia and Pain Management CoderAAPC
CASCCCertified Ambulatory Surgery Center CoderAAPC
*CCACertified Coding AssociateAHIMA
CCCCertified Cardiology CoderAAPC
*CCSCertified Coding SpecialistAHIMA
*CCS-PCertified Coding Specialist (Physician -Based)AHIMA
CCVTCCertified Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery CoderAAPC
CDEICertified Documentation Expert InpatientAAPC
CDEOCertified Documentation Expert OutpatientAAPC
CDIPCertified Documentation Integrity PractitionerAHIMA
CEDCCertified Emergency Department CoderAAPC
CEMCCertified Evaluation and Management CoderAAPC
CFPCCertified Family Practice CoderAAPC
CGICCertified Gastroenterology CoderAAPC
CGSCCertified General Surgery CoderAAPC
CHDACertified Health Data AnalystAHIMA
CHONCCertified Hematology and Oncology CoderAAPC
CHPSCertified in Healthcare Privacy and SecurityAHIMA
*CICCertified Inpatient CoderAAPC
CIRCCCertified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular CoderAAPC
COBGCCertified Obstetrics Gynecology CoderAAPC
*COCCertified Outpatient CoderAAPC
COPCCertified Ophthalmology CoderAAPC
COSCCertified Orthopedic Surgery CoderAAPC
CPBCertified Professional BillerAAPC
*CPCCertified Professional CoderAAPC
CPCDCertified Professional Coder in DermatologyAAPC
CPCOCertified Professional Compliance OfficerAAPC
CPEDCCertified Pediatrics CoderAAPC
CPMACertified Professional Medical AuditorAAPC
CPMSCertified Professional Medical ScribeAAPC
CPPMCertified Professional Practice ManagerAAPC
CRCCertified Risk Adjustment CoderAAPC
CRHCCertified Rheumatology CoderAAPC
CUCCertified Urology CoderAAPC
RHIARegistered Health Information AdministratorAHIMA
RHITRegistered Health Information TechnicianAHIMA

                                                                                                            – Information found at: AAPC, AHIMA

The list I provided earlier could be more comprehensive. There are additional coding certifications beyond those offered by AAPC or AHIMA. However, in talking to peers and instructors across various educational platforms, it’s apparent that certificates from AAPC and AHIMA are often the most sought-after when applying for medical coding jobs. A targeted job search using specific credentials like CPC or CCS yields more opportunities in my locale than a generic keyword search for “medical coding.”

The array of available certifications can be daunting, so a focused approach is crucial. Some certificates are specialized, tailored to specific body systems or medical niches, and best suited for those with a foundational understanding of medical coding and know where to concentrate their efforts. That’s not where I am—at least not yet.

Then, you have certifications aimed at administrative roles, oversight, and instruction designed for those with considerable experience in medical coding or the healthcare sector. Again, I’m not at that stage—perhaps in the future.

Lastly, location-specific certifications target healthcare settings like emergency departments or ambulatory surgery centers. While these sectors present exciting opportunities, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into any specific area.

So, for someone like me, at the start of their medical coding career, the best bet would be to focus on foundational certifications that offer the broadest range of opportunities. With that in mind, I’ve refined my list accordingly.

Basic Medical Coding Foundational & Generalized Certifications
CCAAHIMASelf-Study Entry-Level Coding (all settings) available since 2022
COCAAPCOutpatient and Ambulatory
CPCAAPCPhysician-Practice and Provider

Navigating the maze of generalized and foundational certifications, a couple of critical factors stand out for me:

  1. The ability to code in both hospital and outpatient settings
  2. Holding a certification from each major credentialing body, AAPC and AHIMA, to meet potential employer preferences.

Clearly, no single certification will cover all bases, so multiple credentials are inevitable. But which ones?

Each industry has its norms, and medical coding is no exception. Based on my observations and extensive “research” (thank you, Google), AAPC seems to lean more towards outpatient coding, while AHIMA focuses on inpatient settings. This isn’t a critique of either; it’s simply the status quo I’ve come to recognize. Therefore, my obvious choices are the CCS certification via AHIMA for inpatient coding and the CPC-A from AAPC for a broad, foundational grasp of outpatient coding.

I’ve also considered alternatives like the CIC from AAPC or the CCS-P and CCA from AHIMA. However, these options run counter to the prevailing industry narrative, and a preliminary job search for these credentials yielded only limited opportunities in my area, reinforcing my initial observations.

Notably, AHIMA is pioneering a “Credential as you go” initiative involving micro-credentials—short, cost-effective courses designed to address specific employer needs. As someone who’s just starting, this strengthens my resolve to opt for broad foundational certifications now and specialize later if needed.

Transitioning from deciding which credentials to obtain to obtaining them is another hurdle. While many websites claim that there are no ‘official’ prerequisites for taking a medical coding exam, my experience suggests otherwise. A solid grasp of medical terminology, anatomy, pathology, and physiology is essential. Special training or coursework isn’t just recommended; it’s virtually a prerequisite. And let’s talk finances: each certification exam hovers around the $300 mark. It’s not a gamble you want to make multiple times, so preparation is key.

The future of medical coding looks promising. According to AAPC’s 2022 Salary Survey, remote work remains prevalent, and industry growth is projected to outpace the national average. Salaries vary by region, but the figures are encouraging, especially for those with multiple certifications.

So, why not plunge into a dynamic, ever-evolving career like medical coding? It demands continuous learning and offers substantial career opportunities. Yes, it involves an initial investment in training and materials, but the personal and professional returns are significant. As a career that impacts people’s lives, the stakes are high, but so are the rewards.

The medical coding landscape is rich with opportunity. And the future looks even brighter for someone armed with both CCS and CPC credentials. Given the inherent demand for ongoing education and the pace of industry change, a career in medical coding is more varied. And hey, if you’re part of a wheel, why not be a cog that makes a difference?

The AHIMA Foundation. (2023, September 26). Certifications and Careers. Retrieved from AHIMA: American Health Information Management 

UMA. (2023, January 23). CPC vs CCS Certifications: What’s the Difference? Retrieved from UMA: Ultimate Medical Academy

About the Blogger

Dr Cynthia Pritchett

Dr. C. takes great pride in being a student of the MCDC program at AMCI, currently enrolled in the 4th session. As a retiree from a fulfilling career in education, she is excited to embark on medical coding as her second professional chapter.