“I think the medical billing field chose me instead of me choosing it,” said Tammy Cooper, a newly certified coding professional in Rochester, NY. “I started as a per diem evening receptionist after my husband urged me to get out of the house and use my brain instead of spending all day, every day with our two toddler daughters as a stay at home mom.”
Cooper quickly rose from part-time work at an addictions facility that served two halfway houses, five clinics, and supportive living in several counties, to working full-time as an Accounts Receivable Coordinator.
“I was responsible for outpatient billing for all those sites and the backup person to the Director of Finance.”
She said that helping people was what she felt passionate about and working in this role gave her a sense of purpose.
“To this day, I still remember a patient coming to me in tears to thank me. I asked why, and she told me I had helped her learn to be independent again by teaching her how to pay her bills.”
As she established her place in the workforce, Cooper completed an associate’s degree in Accounting and bachelor’s degree in Business.
She took herself out of the workforce briefly to stay home with her kids, and then accepted a billing coordinator position for a physical therapy/mental health facility. Hired to help with a billing software transition, she helped scale down the department from six to three, and then tackled the communication breakdown that was causing problems.
“I literally tore down cubicle walls in the small billing office to bridge the gap between providers and billers.”
When her contract finished, she found a job with a not-for-profit organization that serves New York’s migrant population. Cooper said she enjoys being part of a team that genuinely cares about each other. She credits her supervisor, Jackie, for pushing her to add to her skills.
They needed to fill a coding position and Jackie encouraged her to apply. She connected Cooper with Practice Management Institute (PMI) to enroll in the Certified Medical Coder class in Rochester. Cooper had worked in medical billing for 20 years, but seriously doubted she could successfully complete the course and six-hour exam.
PMI Instructor/Consultant Pam Joslin, MM, CMC, CMIS, CMOM, CMCO, CMCA-E/M, CEMA said this is a real concern that should be addressed before enrolling in this course. She said that although PMI recommends that CMC candidates have at least a year of coding experience prior to enrollment of the course, some students come in overly confident that they can pick up the material and breeze through the course.
“By day two of the program, their eyes would gloss over and they realized they were in over their heads,” Joslin said. “By then it was too late to catch up and they would end up dropping out or doing poorly on the exam.”
In 2017, PMI’s faculty team created a 20-question online medical coding assessment to gauge their current skills before signing up for the course. Questions address understanding of ICD-10-CM, CPT®, HCPCS, and modifiers and points to resources to fortify knowledge prior to the first CMC class.
“I took the assessment and did well on it. I was shocked,” Cooper said.
Throughout the class meetings and homework assignments, her supporters gave her daily encouragement even when she thought she would not succeed. Exam day came and went and waiting to receive her exam results was grueling.
“I was mentally exhausted from the preparation and taking the exam but my supervisor told me not to worry because she was positive I had passed.”
Four weeks later, Cooper received good news from her daughter who called her at work to tell her that her mail from PMI had arrived.
“I asked her if it a tube or an envelope because my instructor, Pam, had said a tube meant pass and an envelope meant fail! Thankfully, it was a tube!”
Since taking the course, Cooper said that she is more confident in her ability to find each patient’s story in the provider’s note. She said her work family celebrated in her excitement and she is grateful to her supervisor and her coding instructor for having patience in the classroom and preparing her for the exam.