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What Is an RN Coder?

Janice Monti, Ph.D.
Updated February 26, 2024
Edited by
Are you a registered nurse thinking about moving out of clinical work? Check out this guide to learn about a career as an RN coder.
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Female medical coder typing on a computer in a doctor's office. She is sitting at a desk and referencing patient medical files.Credit: Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

How Long to Become

2-4 years

Job Outlook


Average Annual Salary


If you are a registered nurse (RN), you might consider making the move into a non-clinical career as an RN coder. RN coders use their nursing knowledge and training to work with medical data that is essential for accurately diagnosing conditions. This helps maintain updated patient records and ensures accurate billing and insurance information.

RN coder jobs may provide a more predictable schedule and better work/life balance than traditional clinical nursing work — without the stress and long hours. RN coders may be “behind the scenes” but can still play an important role in patient care and the operations of their facility.

Have questions? Continue reading to learn more about how you can break into this rewarding career.

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What Does an RN Coder Do?

ADN or BSN Required
Certification Optional

Medical coding involves taking a patient’s health information — including diagnoses, procedures, and various other services information — and converting it into universal medical codes. An RN coder works with healthcare providers and administrators to manage this process.

An RN coder takes information from patient charts and medical records and assigns codes based on International Classification of Diseases or Current Procedural Terminology guidelines.

RN coders use their nursing training and knowledge of medical terminology to assign codes for use in Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance companies, ensuring that claims are processed quickly and in a way that maximizes reimbursement.

Depending on employer needs, nurse coders often investigate unpaid claims and billing and insurance discrepancies. While RN coder jobs involve little or no direct patient care responsibilities, these professionals will sometimes work with patients to resolve billing and insurance issues.

nurse writing on clipboard in office

SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

Key Responsibilities

  • Ensure accurate diagnostic information according to international classification standards
  • Review patient records to identify missing or potentially inaccurate coding
  • Modify coding as appropriate
  • Educate staff on accurate coding
  • Stay up to date on changes in medical coding

Career Traits

  • Methodical
  • Responsible
  • Detail-oriented
  • Able to keep up with rapidly changing field

Where Do RN Coders Work?

RN coders work in a variety of healthcare settings. Wherever medical diagnoses are a part of the workflow, RN coders are likely to be a part of the equation. Some even own their own business and set their own hours.


In hospitals, nurse coders play a vital role in patient safety by ensuring medical records are accurate. They also ensure that insurance billing and payment run smoothly and quickly.

Medical Offices

Doctor’s offices, clinics, and a range of other outpatient facilities hire RN coders to handle coding and billing. They also communicate with patients about their insurance coverage and outstanding claims and balances.

Insurance Companies

RN coders in insurance companies review records for inaccurate, incomplete, or fraudulent data. This helps prevent fraud and waste.

Remote Workplaces

Some RN coder jobs can be performed from home. Some RN coders own their own businesses, others are employed by healthcare or insurance companies, and others freelance for a variety of clients.

Why Become an RN Coder?

Nurse coders need medical knowledge, an understanding of the healthcare system, technical skills, and analytical ability. If you have these skill sets, this career might be a fit for you. Some RN coder jobs may be performed from home, unlike many other nursing jobs.

Some pros and cons to becoming an RN coder include:

Advantages of Becoming an RN Coder

  • check-circleMore predictable work-life balance compared to bedside roles
  • check-circleAbility to work from home as well as on-site
  • check-circleContribute to healthcare quality and patient safety

Disadvantages of Becoming an RN Coder

  • x-circleRelatively little interaction with patients
  • x-circleWork can be repetitive
  • x-circleCan be difficult to keep up with coding changes

How to Become an RN Coder

  1. 1

    Earn the Right Degree

    You need either an or a . An ADN takes two years to complete, while a BSN takes four years. Some employers prefer BSNs for higher-level positions.
  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX Exam

    This exam is required to become a nurse of any kind. The exam covers clinical skills, communication, the healthcare system, and legal/ethical issues.
  3. 3

    Gain Nursing Experience

    Many employers, particularly in specialities such as , prefer at least two years of experience as an RN.
  4. 4

    Become a Certified Coder or Auditor

    While not a legal requirement, many employers prefer certification. Certification types include certified professional coder (CPC), certified inpatient coder (CIC), certified coding specialist (CCS), certified professional medical auditor (CPMA), and certified outpatient coder (COC).

How Much Do RN Coders Make?

According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual RN coder salary is $57,182, with the highest earners making about $72,000 a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific RN coder salary information, but it does report a median annual salary of $47,180 for all medical records specialist occupations.

How much you can make as an RN coder salary depends on your training level, experience, certifications, geographic location, and employer.

The 2023 Medical Coding and Billing Salary Report published by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) showed that certifications can significantly boost your income. Medical documentation specialists with two AAPC certifications earn an average salary of $66,198, while those with three or more make an average of $71,361.

In addition to work experience and certifications, where you live and where you work can also impact your earnings. The AAPC report indicates that California pays the highest yearly salaries, averaging $67,660, while Indiana offers the lowest at $47,176. Average medical coding earnings vary by type of employer, with larger hospitals and healthcare systems paying the highest salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions About RN Coders

It takes at least two years to become an RN coder. You will also need additional training on medical coding to become a nurse coder. Some coding certifications, particularly specialty coding certifications, strongly recommend at least two years of nursing experience.

RN coder jobs, like other medical data and informatics jobs, are growing faster than the average for all professions. Hospitals and other healthcare providers, insurance companies, government agencies, and law firms specializing in medical issues all hire nurse coders.

Many nurses may code or review codes as part of their regular responsibilities. Many organizations and associations offer fundamental training to help familiarize nurses with medical coding.

In some states, you can become a medical documentation specialist without a college degree or RN license. However, healthcare providers increasingly prefer to hire candidates with knowledge of medical terminology and clinical experience gained through RN training and coding certifications.

RN coders have several certification options. The AAPC, a major training organization for health care administration, offers several certified coder, billing, and auditor credentials. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), which represents professionals in healthcare information, technology, and business, administers certification for coder associates, specialists, and administrators.

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