I had worked for almost 20 years at a family run business—I spent half my life there. Sadly, I felt I had reached my ceiling years ago, within that company, and within the printing industry. Still, I was reluctant to leave my comfort zone, especially because everyone there felt like family.
One day, as I was sitting at the traffic light, I looked over at the electronic sign outside the building: Now enrolling – Medical Billing and Coding/ Office Administration. I knew almost nothing about medical billing and coding, but I thought, ‘I think I’d be good at that’.
I emailed the school asking for more information. But I stopped listening to the Admissions Representative, Amy’s, voice message when I heard, “It’s a full day program.” I was working full-time. There was no way I could make this happen. I returned her call to say I appreciated that she had reached out, but it wasn’t an opportunity I could take at that time. I let it go, life went on.
“If you start in the next class group, you’ll be done by the end of the year…new year, new career.” I was still working full time; I emailed her saying I would keep it in mind. At the Open House at MTTI on March 4th, I met the program instructors, Ms. Roc and Ms. Dawn. Ms. Roc said, “I have a good feeling about you; if it is meant to be, I’ll see you back here.” I replied to her, ‘Maybe in the fall’.
Business at the company had been slowing down even before the pandemic. A few days later I and all of the people I worked with, were laid off. I called Amy and asked if I could still enroll in the next class start; she set up all the interviews for me. Confined to home while waiting four weeks for the program to start, with no job and unable to go anywhere, was the strangest time in my life.
I had a lot of questions—including, ‘Am I going to be able to handle this?’ A close friend had graduated from MTTI—she assured me that she had loved it. I have another friend who had taught at MTTI in the past. I reached out to her; and she said, “It’s going to be hard, but you will be great at it.” It was a little scary because I didn’t know what to expect. But not having anything to compare it to took some of the tension away; it felt kind of like reckless abandon. ‘Here goes nothing!’
I studied, read and prepared for the next day. I liked having something to do, and enjoyed exercising my brain. Learning to understand insurances and insurance forms, and the history of HIPAA, was a little daunting—as were our next units: anatomy and medical terminology. Ms. Roc made me feel I was going to be great at what we were learning. I appreciated that she was pulling for me. Her faith in me made me want to do well; I didn’t want to let her down.
Coding is like a puzzle you put together. It made my brain work in ways it never had before. And I was excited to be getting really good grades. Learning started to become much easier for me; in turn, I was able to help some of my classmates.
I just passed with a 70—by the skin of my teeth. During the course, I hadn’t gotten less than a 90 on any test. Ms. Roc held a free boot camp right before the CPC exam. She taught us strategies to take the test and prepared us well. When I sat for the exam, I felt more confident about that exam than any other test I had taken that year. I scored a 90 to become a CPC-Apprentice (CPC-A). Next fall, I will be eligible to remove the “A” to be a Certified Professional Coder.
The class before us had moved to remote learning towards the end of their program. We only went on-site a couple of times during our program to pick up books, as we needed them. Shawn, the Career Services Specialist, held workshops on Zoom to help us write our resumes. During the internship, we went to school for weekly check-ins.
I knew nothing about what they do in the EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) department. It intrigued me, because it was definitely something different, and a bit more complex than the billing process we had just learned at school. I accepted the internship on the basis of them knowing—of my supervisor, Kristie knowing—that this was very new, not what I had been prepared to do, just coming out of coding and billing school. However, it helped that I had learned about insurances at school and knew some history of Medicare and Medicaid. Seeing codes and billing items all of the time, I understand the vocabulary. When someone says, “1500 form”, I know what that is.
I had been exposed, but thankfully didn’t test positive or become ill. Fortunately, nothing I do as part of my job requires that I be physically in the office. Hired as an employee on the first day of internship, they said I could work from home. Sometimes being so new to the job and not having that face-to-face is a little challenging, but it is getting better. We check in once a day, and I can always request help through our interoffice messaging system. I’ve found I actually prefer to be working at home.
We deal with Federally Qualified Health Centers; the EDI Department works with the different practice management systems that our clients use. We’re the go-between for claims, our clients, our clearing houses and our payers. The projects I’ve worked on involve checking the status of claims. I am learning different things about how claims are sent and payments are received, and all of the different practice management systems that are used—not just for our clients, but in general. Currently I’m working on a project checking on our clients who use clearing houses to send claims and receive payments. Looking through our clients’ clearing houses, I am identifying which payers were not set up to receive ERA (Electronic Remittance Advice) enrollments. If these are not set up, I send paperwork to get them set up in the program.
My years of professional experience and work maturity helped me learn at school and on the job. Medical employers appreciate the work ethic and customer service skills that I have. When I had first been hired at the printing company as a proof reader, I was told I had a very keen attention to detail. It is in my nature to look for mistakes and to focus on the details that make someone a good biller or coder.
I am keenly aware of how difficult this year has been for so many people. Despite losing a long-term job, breaking up with my boyfriend and being confined to home during the pandemic, it’s been a good year for me. Serendipitously, being laid off from work gave me the opportunity to go to school. Many of my classmates worked while attending school; some also had family responsibilities. My only job was to do well in the program.
I feel a level of motivation and confidence in myself that I’ve never felt before. I’m making more money. I have a new outlook on my future and look forward to earning more certifications. Everything I’ve learned about medical billing and coding is pretty cool. Joking with my friends whenever a medical conversation comes up—I’ll tell them, ‘I’m practically a doctor’. We all laugh about that. They tell me, “You look calm and happy—it looks good on you.”
I have so much more to learn, but this feels like the right career path for me. I remind myself each day, ‘you’ve got this’. Even if I am struggling—even on days when it is overwhelming and feels like nothing is going right—behind that I still feel a strong sense of confidence in myself.
I definitely recommend MTTI to anyone. The school offers programs in eight different industries. You don’t need to have prior knowledge coming in. Everyone I dealt with—Ms. Roc, Shawn, Alicia in Financial Aid and Amy—has been so encouraging; they make you feel you want to be there, and be part of the school.
As a single person, I take full advantage of this time to be with my friends and pursue other interests—like sports. I’m a trail runner. I ran a trail marathon when I was 38 and back-packed through the Grand Canyon that same year. My goal is to someday run an ultra-marathon. Having a new career that I love just adds to that.
They provide such good opportunities for people who don’t want to invest four years of their life in getting a college degree that may not even lead to a career. If I could go back and tell my young 21-year-old self—or 18- year-old self, “Don’t go here, do this instead”, I would. But I don’t regret starting off this late; I’m just so glad that I have been able to go to MTTI and begin my new career now.