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Become an important link in the health care field in just 11 months

March 23rd, 2006

What if someone thought of a way that you could go to class just a couple of times a week, for less than a year, and leave with the skills and credentials to more than triple your earning power?

Oh, yes, and what if the classes were absolutely free?

Well, good news for you-somebody has!

Hartnell College, with a grant from the California Community College Chancellorís Office Health Care Initiative, has developed a pilot program in Medical Coding. The not-for-credit program takes 11 months to complete, with classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

At the end of the program, students receive a Certificate of Completion and are eligible to sit for the Certified Coding Associate examination sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association, or AHIMA.

The qualifications for the program are fairly simple and straightforward: a high school diploma or equivalency degree, strong English reading and communications skills, attainment of passing scores on basic English, reading, and math assessments, and participation in a formal interview.

"The program is intensive, but the rewards are almost immediate," said Scott Johnson, one of the organizers of the program in Hartnellís Community & Workforce Development Office. "We have made a commitment to help every student successfully complete this program and pass the certification examination, so there is a lot of extra help available to people who are willing to put in the time."

Johnson says that the local hospitals, clinics, and private offices are in need of trained professionals in this field to ensure that the care their medical professionals provide are billed out and reported to insurance companies appropriately. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost when the coding is not correctly done.

The goal for the Hartnell program is for it to eventually become a credit offering in the medical technology or occupational education fields. But first, it is being offered in three intensive 11-month sessions as a free pilot program. Students may choose whether they would like to start in April, June, or August. They would finish 11 months later, ready to take the certification examination. The first session begins on April 3.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified this field as one of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the country. According to the AHIMA, health information management professionals can expect to be in high demand as the health sector expands. Medical Coders also can expect decent salaries. Certified coders with five years of experience can expect to earn at least $50,000 to $75,000 annually.