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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

For this Medical Records Clerk it was all about job security

November 24, 2020

For this Medical Records Clerk it was all about job securityAbout to turn forty, Gena Simonson did not want to take the time to go back to school for a career that might become obsolete or be undervalued by an employer. She wanted to specialize in something that had sticking power. With all the medical practices and hospitals in her community she felt that a career in Medical Billing and Coding would make her an essential part of a medical office team.

“I was a stay-at-home-mom for ten years with no job experience except retail,” says Gena. She completed a Medical Front Office course in 2010 and spent the next several years working in a handful of medical offices in business support positions. It was light work that allowed her to have plenty of time for her, now, teenage sons Tristan and Caden and fiancé, LeRoy.

Now Gena was ready to step it up. “I knew that the field I was in, without further education, I couldn’t really move forward and make more money; I would just always be entry level.” She already had two important credentials. “I did get CPR certified and HIPPA certified to protect my employer in keeping patient information private.”

It was time for another, higher reach.

“I had to do something to punch up my education, especially in Billing and Coding,” she decided. “I got online and looked up different schools and programs. I didn’t know there even was a State certification for coding, but I knew I had to go that route.”

San Joaquin Valley College’s online Medical Billing and Coding program would be a smart choice. The certificate program took as few as 7-months to complete, she could prepare for and take the certification exam and she could complete the program from the comfort of her home. Perfect.

“I didn’t want to go back into a class with a bunch of young kids,” says Gena. “I’m too old to have my energy dragged down by someone who’s not sure they want to be there,” she laughs. “Doing this online I can be with my kids at sports, student teacher meetings, and take them to school and pick them up. I get to be present in their lives.”

Her program schedule worked well with her home life. “There was virtual class an hour a day and offline studying; we watched videos, took quizzes and tests and then to the books and independent study,” says Gena. “I made sure every single assignment was going to be turned in on time. If I missed one question I went back and retook it until I got 100%.”

Not surprisingly, Gena was on the Dean’s List with a 4.0 GPA and received the Academic Excellence Award. She was also Valedictorian of her class.

The big challenge for Gena was the exam she would take that she needed to pass for State certification. She put in many extra hours of study in preparation. “I would be practicing my medical terms and my son would say, ‘Mom, why are you talking gibberish?’,” she remembers. “They saw me studying 6-7 hours a day for weeks before taking my certification test. My fiancé would cook dinner.”

The information and medical terminology and codes were sometimes overwhelming. But the program was designed to set a pace and provide the support students would need to succeed. “I didn’t expect the program to be so structured, but that was a positive,” says Gena. “I definitely went under water every now and then, but the short goals in between due dates helped me stay motivated.”

Everybody at home had to stretch a little more for Gena to focus on school. “LeRoy was working in the oil field four 12-hour days a week,” she says. I would rarely see him; we’d eat, sleep and then start over. But I had a surgery in there somewhere and he was doing absolutely everything while I was in recovery.”

They had balanced this situation before. “There was a time when he was going to school and I was picking up the slack when he got his Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration.” They both have plans to continue their education even further. “He may extend his education and get a degree in the medical field.” Gena is thinking SJVC’s Medical Billing and Coding Associate’s degree program would be manageable.

Gena’s parents, Eugene and Vicky, set the kind of example she would need to push her toward her own goals. “They always taught me to be a hard worker. And my Dad always said, ‘When you go into something you don’t do it half-assed’,” she says. “You work hard, be on time and don’t just do a job – do it well. Show your employer that you’re worth keeping around.”

They gave her more than words. “My mom actually went back to school when I was a teenager,” Gena remembers. “There was no online, she physically went to school and we had babysitters. She was a housewife, too, with four kids. She’d cleaned office buildings, houses, to get by. She got public assistance, but we never saw that. She had to start over, and we saw her do that at 35; she changed her path.” Vicky earned a degree in Child Development and works at a Head Start facility.

Those seeds planted at such an early age have born fruits of success for Gena. First there was that exam. “That certification test was 5 hours and 40 minutes with 150 questions,” says Gena. “I had 7-years of billing and coding and it was still very hard.” That level of difficulty made her success that much sweeter.

Gena started her new position at Rheumatology Services Medical Group the same month she completed her Medical Billing and Coding program earlier this year.  She is responsible for Accounts Receivable where she bills all the claims, handles claim denials and appeals and posts checks to appropriate accounts. “I love it,” she exclaims. “The environment is really positive, and everyone gets along and is so cohesive.”

She feels the security of a valued position in the successful functioning of a busy medical office.

“I don’t ever feel like I’m going into work tomorrow and get laid off,” she says. “I feel like there’s long-term opportunity here.”

When the coronavirus first began to create layoffs in many offices, Gena was certain, as the newest hire, she would be the first to go. Her medical group did not feel that way. Instead they have plans to send her to Texas for training in Rheumatology coding. “Their business is growing so quickly they will want to hire a Billing Manager. And with my certification and knowledge I’d be a good candidate for that. Manager of an office billing department would be an end goal for my career.”

 

Equally important to Gena is the impression she is making on her teens, Tristan and Caden. “They saw how hard I worked for so long. I’m old, but I tell them you’re never too old to do what you want to do.”

 

As Gena watched and listened to her parents, so will her boys, undoubtedly, watch and listen to her.

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