Should New HIT/HIA Graduates add CCA to their credentials?

by Gail I. Smith, MA, RHIA, CCS-P

When I was the director of a HIM program at the University of Cincinnati, I was often asked: “If coding is part of the content outline for the RHIA and RHIT examinations, why would I, as a new graduate, take AHIMA’s Certified Coding Associate (CCA) certification examination?”

Let me suggest one compelling reason: If you are a new graduate and interested in the field of coding, successful completion of the CCA adds an area of concentration on your resume that sets you apart from other applicants as you begin your career.

Coding has always been a domain in the HIM profession and a part of the HIT/HIA curriculums. But does the RHIT/RHIA credential guarantee entry-level competency in the area of coding? Let’s take a closer look at the coding content tested in the two examinations:

• RHIA examination content outline identifies coding (classification systems) as one of four tasks in Domain 1 called Data Content, Structure and Standards (Information Governance) and approximately 18-22% of the exam includes questions directed at those 4 areas. One can’t make assumptions about the number of questions per task, but let’s pretend that 5 questions are included per task (Classification, Record Content, Data Governance, Data Management), that would mean approximately 3% of the 160-question exam tests on coding.

• The RHIT examination blueprint displays coding as one of 8 tasks under Revenue Cycle Management, which comprises 14-18% of the exam. It appears that coding is a small portion of the overall exam blueprint for both examinations.

The CCA examination content focuses 30-34% on coding with related areas of reimbursement methods and compliance adding another 33-41% of the exam construction. Achieving the CCA in addition to your RHIT/RHIA, can be the thing that gets you the interview, gets you the job, and prepares you for long-term success.


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About the Author

Gail Smith, MA, RHIA, CCS-P
Gail Smith, president of Gail I. Smith Consulting, is a nationally recognized coding educator. For most of her career Gail was an associate professor and director of the health information management (HIM) program at the University of Cincinnati and HIM program director at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Gail is a currently a consultant with a software company specializing in medical terminologies. Gail has authored several textbooks, including Basic Procedural Terminology and HCPCS Coding published by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).   An advocate for advanced coder training, Gail is the author of several titles for Libman Education including CPT: Introduction to Procedural Coding and two courses on the unique challenge of CPT coding in the pediatric setting: CPT for Pediatrics and CPT for Pediatrics: Advanced Orthopedic Coding. According to Gail: “One cannot possibly teach every coding scenario a coder will experience in their career. That is why coding education needs to focus instead on how to arrive at an accurate and defensible code assignment. It is the difference between learning to fish, and being given a fish. If you learn to code instead of being given answers to memorize, you will be able to arrive at the complete codes more quickly and with greater confidence.”

8 thoughts on “Should New HIT/HIA Graduates add CCA to their credentials?

  1. Wanda - July 25, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    I got my CCA after I graduated my Coding program and when I went to 3 different interviews they said that they prefer people with CCS not CCA. I am from Massachusetts, it can be different in other states.
    You should look at different job offers and see what they prefer CCA or CCS for certification and go from there.

    • Libman Education - July 25, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Wanda! Congratulations on your CCA achievement. New RHIT/RHIA graduates with little or no real coding experience from any HIM or coding certificate program typically don’t have the skill in the early part of their career to successfully complete the CCS exam. (We recommend two years experience coding records before attempting the CCS!) For the new RHIT/RHIA graduate, achieving the CCA demonstrates an additional level of skill that can be added to a resume. For many jobs specific to just coding a CCS may be required but if you aren’t eligible for the CCS, the CCA can’t hurt.
      — Sandy Macica, Director of Educational Content for Libman Education

  2. Kevin - August 2, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Most employers still don’t recognize the CCA. The preferred credentials are still the RHIA, RHIT, CCS, and the CPC. Only recently are some employers beginning to recognize the credential. That is usually due to the employer’s participation in AHIMA’s apprenticeship program. Outside the apprentice program, the RHIA/ RHIT usually worked better in getting the graduate the job. From my experience, I don’t see the return on investment for the CCA, if you are already an RHIA, RHIT. I see the CCA as beneficial, only when the individual is a recent graduate of coding certificate program. Even then, those employees are usually forced to get their CCS within one year of their hire date.

    • Libman Education - August 10, 2018 at 1:43 am

      Thanks for your input Kevin. It depends on what type of job a new RHIT/RHIA graduate is looking for as well as what type of HIM experience the new graduate already has. Coding has always been a domain in the HIM profession and a part of the RHIT/RHIA curriculums but it is not the sole focus of those programs. Since new graduates who are interested in coding may not yet have the experience to successfully achieve the CCS or CPC, successful completion of the CCA shows that additional specialized level of interest and skill.

  3. Terry - August 2, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    I agree with this! By passing the RHIA/RHIT exam, you have displayed the capability of being a CCA. Makes sense to me!

    • Libman Education - August 10, 2018 at 1:40 am

      Hi Terry,
      Passing the RHIT/RHIA exam demonstrates some knowledge of coding; the CCA is more rigorous in the field of coding and thus requires more detailed coding knowledge to pass. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Realyn - August 7, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    I graduated fr my HIA program and took the RHIA. Still waiting on the RHIA results at the time so I took the CCA certification and obtained my CCA credential. Recruiters always asked me when will I get rid of the “A” from my credentials. I know this is “true” for the AAPC version of their coding “CPC-A”/CPC, but with the AHIMA coding certs, it’s CCA, CCS, or CCS-P, I don’t believe you can get “rid” of the “A”. I guess my concern is that is it rude to say to someone that you cannot take the “A” off the CCA?? It is considered a coding certification through AHIMA but it is the “entry” level. I mean if I had all my certs, my name would be FirstName LastName, RHIA, CCS, CCA?

    • Libman Education - August 10, 2018 at 1:29 am

      Hi Realyn, you have definitely been putting effort into your career. Now is the perfect time to educate those recruiters about your proven skills and what makes you special. Make sure you point out your college degree specific to achieving the RHIA. In addition, your achievement of the CCA with AHIMA is not the same as a coding certification apprentice designation with AAPC. You are not an apprentice, you earned the CCA and there is no further requirement for you to do anything additional to prove your knowledge.