Success can cost you more than you thought it would.

You might have heard the phrase, “everyone wants to be successful until they see what it actually takes.” 

While I’m not sure where the quote originates, I’ve seen it attached to various images, one of which is the feet of ballerinas. It shows their toes bloody and bandaged from hours upon hours of dance trauma. 

While this phenomenon isn’t confined to dance alone, it does drive home the point that anything worth pursuing and attaching your name to, for which you desire to claim success, can cost you more than you thought it would.

On the other hand, consider the word “mediocre” or “mediocrity.”  The common definition lists traits like:

  • Ordinary
  • Uninspired
  • Undistinguished
  • Unexceptional
  • Unremarkable
  • Pedestrian

But the heart of its original meaning, from the Latin words medlus – middle, and ocris – rugged mountain, translates to “settle for traveling halfway to the summit of a difficult mountain.” It represents the compromise of abilities and potential, as well as a negotiation between the drive to excel and the biological urge to settle for a more comfortable option.

So, let’s inspire a positive approach for being successful in our coding careers, and contemplate a few points that might be helpful.

Master the Basics

As a coding professional, you should know details within your field of expertise that set you apart from others. Some of those would include:

  • Annual ICD-10-CM/PCS Official Guidelines for inpatient coders
  • Annual CPT-4 guideline updates pertinent to your specialty
  • State-specific rules, regulations, and laws concerning various policies and procedures related to coding and billing
  • Payor guidelines that impact coding and reimbursement
  • Use of the official code books and/or encoding software to abstract relevant coding data for your position

While all of those are, in my opinion, basic necessities, there are also some other basics that are more intangible, such as:

  • Being detail-oriented
  • Proper communication with management and team members
  • Promoting teamwork
  • Giving a full workday’s worth of work
  • Problem-solving

Going Beyond Mediocrity

Considering all the tools at our disposal, there is no reason we cannot become masters of our craft of coding! When I started my healthcare career in the 1980s, there was no Internet or YouTube. But now, in 2020, books, manuals, and videos are at my fingertips, simply by a search on the web. I can view anatomy and physiology presentations online, take quizzes and tests, and prepare myself for any number of studies for certifications and degrees. My skills can be fine-tuned by reading scientific journals of medicine centering on the topics of medical necessity, medical decision-making, development of new procedures, techniques, drugs, protocols, etc.; the list goes on and on.

I’m also not limited for healthcare coding, because for any office or management expertise I find I’m lacking in and for which there is no current resource within my organization, I can obtain online training. For example, say I’m not quite beyond the basics of Microsoft Excel, and I want to advance my skills for spreadsheet management. I can find not only videos showing me how to perform advanced and complicated tasks, but also downloadable files for use while I view the videos and do the work myself. Are they free? Yes, many of them are. In the past, I’ve paid for some services as well, and find both paid and free resources to be incredibly valuable.

What about all those conferences you might attend for networking, CEUs, and other training? Have you considered attending some of the workshops that might be hands-on, with advanced themes? Some of those sessions require you to show up a day or two early or stay a day or two beyond the official conference window.  Again, these are valuable for you in your career growth. 

Tech Savvy

You don’t have to be a computer geek or IT wizard to be technically proficient with the hardware and software you will inevitably have to utilize time and time again in your coding career. If you want to be successful, you’ll need to read, train, demo, and troubleshoot in a lot of areas. I know you’ll be provided a help desk number and email address to get you through rough patches. And of course, you will likely use these on occasion – but knowing how to setup your own wifi router with security goes a long way. Knowing the software version and when it needs updating keeps your system from slowing down, going down, or just shutting down!

Many healthcare employment candidates are fond of highlighting their use of various types of electronic health record (EHR) systems in their resumes. However, I’ve yet to see anyone point out that they know tips and tricks of the EHR that others may not be aware of, or that they can train others on, helping them find pertinent data for their roles with the organization.

Maybe you have used computer-assisted coding tools before. But have you been the decision-maker on a committee to choose the tool? Have you been the tester/troubleshooter for the development of the tool? Have you helped implement the software for use within an organization?  Was it successful or not, and what did you learn from that opportunity?

Healthcare Literacy

Health literacy includes numeracy skills. For example, calculating cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measuring medications, and understanding nutrition labels all require math skills. Choosing between health plans or comparing prescription drug coverage requires calculating premiums, copays, and deductibles.

In addition to basic literacy skills, health literacy requires knowledge of health topics. People with limited health literacy often lack general knowledge or have misinformation about the body, as well as the nature and causes of disease. Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and various health outcomes.

Health information can overwhelm even those with advanced literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly. What people may have learned about health or biology during their school years often becomes outdated or forgotten, or it is incomplete.

In the infancy of my healthcare career, my manager at St. Anthony Consulting Group/Ingenix insisted that all staff read the annual Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed and final rules for our area(s) of work-related and client focus. We all had to highlight various items for discussion, question what we read, strategize and develop answers and solutions for clients, and have a thorough working knowledge to present this information before CEOs, CFOs, or conference staff. This habit continues with me to this day. It helps me be proactive and creative when speaking and working with others in the industry.

Taking Direction

If you take on a new role and indicate to everyone that you already know it all, success will certainly elude you. If you approach the opportunity with a fresh set of eyes, you open the door of opportunity to highlight your talents.

Managers like to know that staff can take direction. This means that they don’t require extensive oversight, are self-starters, and are able to accomplish the tasks they are assigned. This can require employees to refine their skills in listening, questioning, research, and communication. Knowing communication preferences is important. If your manager receives numerous phone calls and emails all day, it can become taxing if you are the only person who constantly requires their attention for certain items.

There are often client and management decisions that cannot always be shared immediately, and for which scheduling, workflow, and performance requirements change – and you must be able to adapt for these circumstances without becoming unhinged. If you’re not in management, you may not be privy to some of these items, nor should you be. 


You might be thinking that all of these are considered “soft skills.” While some might think so, I maintain the belief that all of these have been common workplace practices of the past, and aren’t so commonplace any longer. Whether you desire to move up the company ladder, receive a pay raise or bonus, or simply want to be proud of the work you do, the things discussed in this article will hopefully cause you to think about your professionalism and the occupation you have chosen in the healthcare industry. There are likely thousands of books on success you can find at a library, or from Amazon online, but unless you apply the concepts you read, the words on a page will remain just that – words on a page.

Programming Note: 

Listen to Lamon Willis report this story live today during Talk Ten Tuesday, 10-10:30 a.m. EST.


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