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What Is a Medical Coder?


From patient counseling to surgery and follow-up care, every interaction between healthcare providers and patients has a standard code assigned to it by a health information professional known as a medical coder. These professionals analyze records of medical services, procedures, and other patient data and classify it. Medical coders produce health data that’s used not only for medical billing but also for health research, epidemiological studies, public education, and more.


Medical coding can be a great option for highly organized and detail-oriented nursing graduates who would like to work in healthcare but prefer to work in nonclinical settings. Those looking to develop their knowledge and skills for medical coding can consider an RN to BSN online.

What Do Medical Coders Do?

What a medical coder is responsible for includes analyzing information about a patient, such as their medical records or a medical procedure, and classifying that information into standard numeric or alphanumeric codes. These individuals perform a task similar to medical documentation but often do so outside the healthcare facility altogether.


Medical coders act as liaisons between the nurses and physicians who provide patient services and the insurance companies who bill the patients. Without medical coders, healthcare professionals would not be able to bill their clients properly, and patients would not receive written documentation of the services they and their insurance companies are paying for.


What a medical coder is expected to do on a day-to-day basis includes:


  • Keeping medical records of patients
  • Receiving and reviewing patient charts for verification and accuracy
  • Following up with medical professionals to clarify information
  • Ensuring codes are assigned correctly per government and insurance regulations
  • Researching and checking coding books and medical dictionaries for data accuracy

Nurse Coder/RN Coder

Similar to a medical coder is what’s known as a nurse coder/RN coder. While not all medical coding positions require a BSN and registered nurse (RN) license, the nurse coder/RN coder position is for those with a nursing license.


Nurse coders/RN coders are responsible for extracting information from medical reports and assigned industry standard codes. They usually don’t interact directly with patients.


This role may appeal to RNs seeking to work outside the parameters of direct patient care. Additional advantages to the nurse coder/RN coder role include a traditional work schedule and the opportunity to pursue senior administrative roles.


Nurse coders/RN coders can also pursue graduate degrees and certifications in informatics nursing, a nursing and computer science field dedicated to improving nursing practices through technology. A graduate degree coupled with a certification such as the American Medical Informatics Association


(AMIA) Health Informatics Certification (AHIC) can offer opportunities for nurses to test and improve patient records software.

What Are a Medical Coder’s Skills and Qualifications?

Individuals interested in becoming successful medical coders should understand the skills and qualifications required. Most medical coding jobs require specific certifications, and some require previous experience. The following are key skills and qualifications for a medical coder.


Key Skills

  • Mathematics skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Knowledge of data entry and transcriptions
  • Excellent written and verbal communication
  • Strong understanding of physiology, medical terms, and anatomy



  • At least an associate degree (although many organizations require a BSN)
  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification, offered by the American Health Information Management Association
  • Experience in coding systems such as ICD-10-CM and CPT-4 and related software


How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Coder?

For those interested in becoming a competitive applicant, a typical career path to becoming a medical coder can take between three to five years, including the time required to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree and the RHIT certification.

What Is the Medical Coder Salary and Career Outlook?

While the average salary for medical coders may vary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary for medical records specialists is about $46,660 annually. This salary corresponds to professionals who have earned an undergraduate degree and a certification. Data suggests this position will grow at a rate of 7% between 2021 and 2031.

Prepare for a Rewarding Career in Medical Coding

A medical coder is a healthcare professional who provides an important service in the industry. Their ability to analyze and classify medical information helps healthcare providers bill properly for their services and allows patients to better understand what types of services they are being billed for. Most important, medical coders help the healthcare industry harness vital data it can use to further medical research and foster quality of care.


The first step many medical coders take toward their careers is to pursue a BSN such as Maryville University’s RN to BSN online program. This degree can allow graduates to pursue a number of medical professions including but not limited to medical coding.


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