Medical coders, also known as medical records specialists, play a crucial role in the healthcare industry, ensuring patients’ medical information is correctly entered into electronic health records (EHR) and health insurance billing. They work in various medical settings, including hospitals, physician’s offices, urgent care facilities, and outpatient treatment centers.

The demand for medical coders is expected to increase at a faster-than-average pace during the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While most medical coding jobs don’t require a degree, having a post-secondary education in medical coding can give students an edge in the hiring process and lead to promotions and additional educational opportunities.

In this article, learn more about the education requirements for medical coding jobs, the benefits of earning a medical coding degree, and how to choose the medical coding degree program that’s right for you.

Medical Coding Education Requirements

Medical coders work in the healthcare industry, although their role is administrative rather than care-focused. They are responsible for keeping track of patient information, including diagnoses and procedures, in databases used by healthcare networks, health insurance companies, and others. Medical coders require knowledge of specialized coding systems and qualities like attention to detail, analytical thinking, and an aptitude for working with numbers.

The minimum education requirement to become a medical coder is a high school diploma or a GED. Most medical coding jobs also require students to have a professional certification, such as a Certified Billing & Coding Specialist (CBCS), Certified Coding Associate (CCA), Certified Coding Specialist (CCS), or Certified Professional Coder (CPC). Students obtain these credentials by passing an examination.

Earning a degree in medical coding is one way students can prepare for their certification exam. Many of the organizations that award coding credentials offer their own training courses. These programs don’t lead to a degree but include all the information students need for that specific exam.

However, for students considering earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in medical coding, there are certain advantages to having post-secondary education in this area.

Benefits of earning a degree in medical coding

Having an associate or bachelor’s degree in medical coding makes students eligible for more jobs, as some employers require this level of education, especially for higher-level positions. Even if a degree isn’t necessary for a medical coder position, some employers may prefer hiring individuals with an educational background over those without.

A medical coding degree can also be a stepping stone towards further education and advancement in the healthcare industry. Students who earn an associate degree can then apply their credits towards a bachelor’s degree in health informatics, healthcare administration, or healthcare management. Likewise, a bachelor’s degree in medical coding can prepare students for graduate-level study in similar areas.

There is also a correlation between higher levels of education and higher salaries. The median annual salary for medical records specialists is $47,180. However, according to, medical records specialists with an associate degree earn between $56,519 and $60,672 annually, while those with a bachelor’s degree make between $56,841 and $61,070.

Most medical coding degree programs include an internship component, which gives students a hands-on learning experience and networking opportunities before they enter the workforce. This experience can be valuable to help prepare students for working in fast-paced medical settings before they take on a professional role.

Determine Which Degree Fits Your Needs

The most common degree for medical coding is an associate degree, although some schools offer bachelor’s degrees. For students looking for practicality, a post-secondary certificate will provide the necessary preparation for a certification exam.


Degree Level Minimum Credits Standard Minimum Completion Time Types of Degrees Best For
Certificate 12-24 6 month to 1 year Undergraduate — Students who want to prepare for their medical coding exam in the shortest amount of time
Associate 60 2 years Associate of Arts (AA)

Associate of Science (AS)
Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

— Students with no prior college experience who want to prepare for entry-level jobs
Bachelor’s 120 4 years Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Bachelor of Science (BS)

— Students with no prior college experience or some undergraduate credits who want to prepare for entry- and mid-level jobs

Medical Coding Professional Certifications

Professional certification is a key qualification for most medical coding jobs. There are several organizations that certify medical coders. Most medical coders receive certification through one of the following agencies:

American Academy of Professional Coders

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers various certifications for medical coders based on different healthcare settings and levels of responsibility. Students can complete their AAPC exam online or in person and have two attempts to pass it. AAPC also offers continuing education courses to help coders maintain their credentials. Their basic certifications include:

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC) for individuals specializing in coding services in physicians’ offices and other advanced practice provider settings. Professionals who earn the CPC certification specialize in coding services in a physician’s office or advanced practice provider setting.
  • Certified Outpatient Coding (COC) is for medical coders working in outpatient hospital or ambulatory surgical center settings. This certification demonstrates a coder’s mastery of outpatient coding skills, including ambulatory payment classifications (APCs), payment status indicators, and Medicare severity-diagnosis-related groups (MS-DRGs).
  • Certified Inpatient Coding (CIC) focuses on codes for services provided by a facility as opposed to a physician. According to AAPC, “This certification validates mastery in abstracting information from the medical record for ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS coding. It also represents expert knowledge of Medicare Severity Diagnosis Related Groups (MS-DRGs) and the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS).”
  • Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC), who works with the health insurance industry to ensure patient information is documented correctly so health plans can provide appropriate treatment and funding. Says the AAPC, “CRCs play a critical role in establishing accurate risk scores for patients, which promotes optimal patient care and ethical payer reimbursement for providers and health plans.”

AAPC also offers coding certifications in other healthcare specializations such as cardiology, anesthesia and pain management, gastroenterology, family practice, and more.

American Health Information Management Association

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is a nonprofit association for health information professionals worldwide. They offer three coding certifications based on students’ experience and depth of knowledge.

  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA) for entry-level coders who want to exhibit their coding proficiency and demonstrate their commitment to the profession.
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) for experienced medical coders who possess expertise in the ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and CPT® coding systems and are versed in medical terminology, disease processes, and pharmacology concepts.
  • Certificate Coding Specialist – Physician-based (CCS-P) for medical coders who are experts in health information documentation, data integrity, and quality and seek to play a critical role in a health provider’s business operations, often as liaison to insurance companies or the government for expense reimbursement

Practice Management Institute

The Practice Management Institute (PMI) trains and certifies administrative professionals who work in medical settings in a variety of capacities, including medical coders. Their basic certification for medical coders is the Certified Medical Coder (CMC), which focuses on outpatient medical coding. They also offer a Certified Medical Insurance Specialist (CMIS) for individuals who want to manage third-party provider reimbursements. New or inexperienced medical coders can complete their Medical Coding Bundle to gain the foundational skills they need to qualify for credentials and entry-level medical coding jobs.

Medical Coding Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical records specialists will increase by 8% through 2032. This increase translates to approximately 15,000 new job openings annually in the next decade.

The growing elderly population in the U.S., as well as the prevalence of chronic health issues like heart disease and diabetes, is driving this job growth, as more healthcare workers are needed to address the nation’s various medical needs. However, aspiring medical coders should note that companies are developing artificial intelligence (AI) applications that can handle specific data-entry tasks, which may affect the employment and responsibilities of medical coders in the future.

The median annual salary for medical records specialists is $47,180. Individuals who work in management roles, which are typically available to those who have a medical coding degree, earn a median annual wage of $50,370

How to Choose the Medical Coding Program That’s Right For You

The key to picking the right medical coding program is determining what your specific needs are, which you can do by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in medical coding?
  • What type of professional certification am I seeking after graduation?
  • Am I enrolling full-time or part-time?
  • Do I want a synchronous or asynchronous online program?
  • How much can I afford to pay for my medical coding program?

Establishing parameters will help you narrow your search when learning more about your program options. You can research programs by visiting schools’ websites, contacting admissions counselors and program representatives, participating in virtual open houses or information sessions, and following schools on social media. During your research process, confirm the accreditation status of the institutions you’re considering, as this can impact your eligibility for financial aid, jobs, and future education opportunities. Also, review whether the schools you’re considering are for-profit career colleges or non-profit public or private colleges. A school’s status can influence the quality of education you receive.

As you research programs, get more information about their admissions requirements and application processes, as these typically vary from school to school. For undergraduate degrees, students must typically submit a completed application and required fees, official high school transcripts and high school diploma, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and SAT or ACT scores.

Students should also get as much information as possible about program costs and available financial aid resources to help them determine how they’ll pay for their degree. Financial aid resources include scholarships, grants, fellowships, student loans, and work-study. To be considered for need-based aid like student loans and grants, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Employed students should also consult with their employer to determine if they can access tuition assistance benefits.

Learn More About Online Degrees and Medical Coding Degrees