Medically Inclined? Consider a Career in Medical Coding

Written by on January 6, 2012 in Law & Finance - No comments
Tessa Bartels-1

By Suzanne Leder, BA, M. Phil., CPC, COBGC, certified AHIMA ICD-10 trainer, and executive editor at The Coding Institute

If you feel like you’re someone who can work miracles with a magnifying glass, trench coat, and your coding manuals, then you have a lot in common with F. Tessa Bartels. She is a member of the medical coding world, a place where highly skilled professionals turn physician notes into both procedure and diagnosis codes for reimbursement purposes. This ever-changing field constantly keeps medical coders on their toes.

With Certified Professional Coder (CPC) and Certified Evaluation and Management Coder (CEMC) credentials, Bartels is currently the reimbursement manager at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI. Her career started there in 2000. She has also worked as a coder in pediatric critical care. In other words, she jumped into coding and never looked back.

Here’s what happened. Prior to working at Medical College, she had a career as a travel consultant but needed a change. She took a position as a transcriptionist at the Medical College — but only did that for about two days before being introduced to the world of coding.

“It was my second day on the job. My supervisor told me she was going to have the person who did the coding cross train me, so that in the event of her absence, I could fill in,” explains Bartels. “Little did I know that this coder wasn’t just planning a short vacation, she was leaving her job. In any case, I jumped into her job and found that I absolutely loved it. I applied for and was granted a transfer.”

So, what do you enjoy about your job? “I really enjoy the variety of work; the interaction between a wide range of professionals and the public; and the ’problem solving’ (it feels a little like detective work at times).”

How did the TCI training camp help you? “I had taken a basic coding course offered by the Medical Society of Wisconsin, but my experience was really limited to a highly-specialized practice (pediatric critical care). When I applied for my current position, a requirement was that I had to get my CPC within six months. The Coding Boot Camp was invaluable in preparing me for the exam because I learned specifics in areas where I had no experience (i.e., radiology, cardiology, OB/GYN); I passed the exam on the first try!”

Have any advice for people interested into going into this field? “Understand that this is an ever-changing field. No matter what your level of experience or expertise, there is always something new to learn. Be open to challenging your ways of doing things. Also, you will need to interact with a wide range of people – physicians and other healthcare providers, managers, co-workers, insurance representatives, patients and more. Always be professional in your demeanor, work ethic, appearance and don’t forget to maintain your CEUs and certification.

Tips for exam taking. First – prepare by using practice exams. Don’t over think the responses. Pay close attention to guidelines. Answer all the questions that you feel confident about first, and then go back and tackle those that require more thought.” (For more test strategies, see “Medical Coders: Apply Time Management Tips to Tick Passing the CPC Exam Off Your List.”)

When Tessa isn’t coding, you will probably find her at one of her four (yes, four) in-person book discussion groups, or chatting online with one of three. She’s a voracious reader and an active community volunteer. She serves on two non-profit art boards and enjoys going to the theatre and musical events with her husband. She also loves to travel and to cook. “My husband and I will eat anything (at least once) that isn’t moving too fast,” she jokes.

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