You did it.
You put in the hours. You’ve tabbed your code books until they couldn’t be tabbed anymore. You completed practice questions ad nauseum. You’ve even passed your Certified Professional Coder exam. But you’re not there yet. The CPC® credential you were promised is accompanied by an uninvited guest. The kind of visitor who uses up the last of your milk but leaves the carton in the fridge. The kind of guest who says, without a hint of helpfulness or encouragement, “You’ve still got miles to go!”. That’s right, we’re talking about that pesky little “A” tacked on to the end of your shiny new credential.
The “A” in CPC-A tells your peers, and perhaps more importantly, potential employers that you’ve passed the CPC Exam, but are still lacking in real-world experience. The “A” is feared in the community, and most CPC-As embark on a fast and furious mission to drop it as quickly as possible.
Don’t let fear drive you to make hasty decisions. While there are programs out designed to help you earn up to one-year of experience towards the removal of your “A” – they’re expensive, and not the most practical solution right out of the gate.
Finding a practical way to get the experience you need to drop your A can be challenging. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to just get your foot in the door.
– Nicole Bell, CPC, Team Lead at Advize Health
It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The “A” dropping methods that worked for your friend might not be the best option for you. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, weigh out your options, and then act. Remember that you’ve worked hard to get to this point, you can’t let yourself get too discouraged now. You’ve still got a little while to go, but there are many ways to get there.
Letters of Recommendation
First, Download an Apprentice Removal Template from the AAPC’s website. This form will be used by your references to detail your coding experience and demonstrated aptitude. In order for your “A” to be removed, you will need one letter from your employer and one letter from a co-worker. Externships are accepted as a form of experience. Please note that while your employer can only attest to your experience at their organization, your co-worker can demonstrate experience by discussing your use of CPC concepts and coding at previous employers.
This program was established by the AAPC to help newly credentialed CPCs find job placements and gain valuable work experience as medical coders. Project Xtern alone will not be enough to remove your “A”, but it is a great tool to supplement your other efforts. Project Xtern will place participating CPCs and CPC-As in one of 200 Approved Official Extern Sites for 3 to 12 months. During this term, you will accumulate time and experience needed to drop your “A”.
Education + Experience
Complete and obtain proof of completion for 80 or more contact hours in a medical coder training course. In addition to this, you will need to obtain a signed letter from your employer that verifies at least one year of on-the-job experience. You can meet the murder of proof for education hours by submitting an unofficial transcript, official letter from your instructor, or a diploma.
Leverage What You Already Have
If you’re lucky enough to work in healthcare when you become a CPC-A, don’t be afraid to ask your manager or employer for a little boost. Professional development is just as important for employers as it is their employees. Ask your manager if you could be assigned to participate on projects more in the vein of medical coding and billing. Not only will this demonstrate initiative to your superiors, but it will get your foot in the door to gain experience in the field. There’s no better way to learn than jumping right in!
Practicode is the AAPC’s web-based program that uses redacted medical records to provide CPC-As with real-world coding experience. This program will set you back anywhere from $250-300 and will only count towards 1-year of experience. Due to the cost, this option may not be the best option for you, but it is worth mentioning.
Networking, Networking, Networking!
Networking alone won’t directly get you to shed your “A”, but it sure does help! Nicole Bell, Team Lead at Advize, got rid of her “A” on the job, and attributes much of her success to networking.
Ms. Bell suggests that all new CPC-As:
- Find ways to connect with other coders and auditors to better understand what opportunities are out there.
- Look to connect: Join your local AAPC chapter, look for Facebook groups, set up a linked in account.
- Understand the importance of knowing people and being connected to the coding community will certainly increase your chances of finding an open door.