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While there are no set educational requirements to enter the field, success as a medical coding specialist requires a strong knowledge of biology, anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Most employers require a high school diploma or equivalent and prefer candidates with a postsecondary certificate or at least a year of study beyond high school.

Certificate programs in medical coding generally take about a year to complete and are available through community colleges, continuing education centers and four-year colleges. Two professional organizations, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also offer online certificate programs. To become certified, students must pass one of several exams available through AHIMA and AAPC.

O*Net estimates that 21% of health information technicians (including medical coders) attended some college without earning a degree, while 20% hold an associate degree. A growing number of for-profit career schools offer certificate programs and associate degrees in medical coding. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that some of these programs engage in fraudulent and deceptive educational practices while charging very high tuition. To avoid educational scams, consult the list of approved certificate programs on AHIMA’s website.


In some cases, medical coding specialists are trained entirely on the job. This may be an option for people who already have a strong background in the sciences or experience in other areas of health information management.

The US Department of Labor classifies medical coding as an apprenticeable occupation. Registered apprenticeship programs provide paid on-the-job training and academic instruction. For more information, contact a state apprenticeship office or a local chapter of AAPC.

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