Midland College grad finds rewarding medical-coding career

Deborah White has always enjoyed working in the medical field; however, she has never worked in what most people consider typical health care industry jobs. White works behind the scenes and in front of a computer as a medical coder, a valuable resource to physicians, hospitals, insurance companies and patients.

Medical coders update patient records with standardized information needed for data management and billing purposes. Every time a doctor, nurse or other health care provider performs a service, a code needs to be assigned to each diagnosis and procedure. White’s job is to make sure that these codes are correct and then process the information for billing.

White was born in El Paso but lived in Lubbock for most of her life, although not in a traditional family setting. At the age of 11, she went into the foster care program, and at age 13, she moved to Midland when she was assigned to a group foster home at High Sky Children’s Ranch. She remained at High Sky until graduating from Midland High School in 1992 when she moved back to Lubbock. She was a good high school student and was a runner-up at Texas Girls State during her senior year. She was also active in Future Business Professionals of America.

“I can’t really remember when I decided on medical coding as my career path,” White said. “When I first graduated from Midland High School, I worked as a CAD Operator for Fanning, Fanning & Associates (an engineering firm). Then, in 1995, my son James was born, and while he was an infant, I attended ACC [American Commercial College] in Lubbock taking medical records transcriptionist courses. I later discovered that ACC wasn’t accredited by AHIMA [American Health Information Management Association].” 

In 1996, White obtained a job working in billing and coding for Medical Accounts Management, which is now Omega Physician Billing. In 2002, White began working as a billing manager for a cardiologist in Lubbock, where she was employed for five years before joining University Medical Center (now known as UMC Health System) in the patient accounting department. It was during this time that she enrolled in an online Health Information Management program through Kaplan University, but halfway through the program, she discovered that Kaplan University wasn’t accredited. (This was after she had obtained loans to pay for Kaplan’s expensive program.)

In the fall of 2009, while still working in patient accounting for University Medical Center, she learned about Midland College’s Associate of Applied Science degree in Health Information Management.

“By then, I had really set my sights on becoming a medical coder and being certified,” White explained. “I learned that the Health Information Management program at Midland College is AHIMA-accredited, and as a graduate, I would be eligible to take the RHIT [Registered Health Information Technician] exam and would also have an opportunity to be a CCS [Certified Coding Specialist]. In addition, Midland College was much more reasonable than Kaplan, and I could take advantage of scholarships.”

The RHIT exam is available to students who have graduated from an AHIMA-accredited institution. Successful completion of the exam adds the RHIT credential to graduates’ names and widens the scope of employability for them.

In January of 2010, White started taking courses in Midland College’s online Health Information Management program. The program was Midland College’s first and is one of the few completely online programs. White was able to remain living and working in Lubbock while taking courses. Students and teachers communicate with one another through sophisticated online and virtual technologies.

“It took me four years to earn an associate degree,” White said. “I was a single mother raising a teenage son and working full time. I also had to have three surgeries due to complications from a broken leg. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to get through the program. Midland College is one of the only schools in this region accredited at such a high level.” 

White graduated with an associate degree and passed the RHIT exam in May 2014. Her first medical coding job was working with hospitalists’ charts. Today, she is still employed at UMC Health System but is now an outpatient coder. Her main area of concentration is Interventional Radiology (IVR) and Neurointerventional Radiology (Neuro IVR). She has been cross-trained in coding observation charts and coding of cardiology procedures (in cath lab) when needed.

In order to be a coder for IVR, White had to pass another credentialing exam to become a Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC).

“CIRCC is much more intricate than RHIT,” she explained. “While it’s more complex and requires 16 continuing education units every two years, it’s well worth it. Being a CIRCC also means additional pay.”

White works remotely at her home, which she admits requires a great deal of discipline.

“I’ve been working 40 hours a week from my home office since late 2014,” White stated. “Occasionally, I have to go to the UMC Business & Technology Center for meetings. Working remotely from the house isn’t for everyone, but it definitely works for me. I really love medical coding. I enjoy the attention to detail that it requires.”

This attention to detail has made White a very valuable employee. She has trained a few of her fellow UMC coding specialists and will cross-train another one this year. She explained that cross-training is important since UMC Health System’s Health Information department encourages employees to further their experience and education to meet the current and future demands of the facility.

In December 2021, White was named the UMC Health System’s Health Information Management “Employee of the Year.” She currently chairs the UMC Health System’s Health Information Management Rewards & Recommendation Committee. 

“The mission of the committee is to invoke employee engagement through activities, “she explained. “You can imagine that it’s difficult to keep employees engaged when everyone is working remotely, but it’s important for employee morale and retention.”

White said that she feels she has accomplished the goals that she had established for herself 10 years ago. Her future ambitions may involve moving into auditing medical records because of her fondness for paying close attention to details.

--

Rebecca Bell is the executive director of Institutional Advancement at Midland College.