Retraining for a new career in the health field

Health care end-of-the-year checkup.

Kai Ryssdal: Back in the early 1990s, a freelance producer named Deb Monroe started filing stories for us -- not long after she'd left a job in television news to stay home with her two young kids. Those kids are practically grown now, so a couple of years ago, Deb decided to go back to work. Like the rest of the news business, local television has changed quite a bit in the past 20 years. So much so that Deb decided to switch careers to one of the brighter spots in the economy -- health care. But now that she's finished her two years of studying to be a medical assistant, she's discovered the road to a job in health care is jam-packed.

Deb Monroe: When I first started at Canada College in Silicon Valley, I thought I had an edge. After all, I'd been a news producer, a legal secretary, even a new media start-up executive. Then I started talking with my classmates. In crowded classes like medical insurance, billing and transcription, I find myself surrounded by former engineers, airline employees, even former recruiters. Turns out, lots of other people had the same idea of switching to health care.

Ann Nolan: I started researching fields that were hiring, that were growing and health care was one of the biggest.

Ann Nolan is a small business owner who wants to work an extra decade before retiring. I met her my first day in the medical assisting program, and when I see her again, I learn she's got a clever new plan to increase her marketability.

Nolan: We have an added strategy which is to take phlebotomy as well, the drawing of blood, so that our options for employment are that much greater.

That's enough to make my blood pressure shoot up, which is funny because when I run into Ann, she's practicing taking blood pressure readings on fellow students.

Nolan: I got about 118 over 82.

Instead of going the clinical route, like Ann, I've chosen the administrative side of health care. Specifically medical coding, a system used to bill insurance companies.

I run my plan by instructor Kate Charlton, who has been a nurse of 30 years. Charlton says going into coding is a good idea, for one simple reason.

Kate Charlton: Because that's where the money is.

If you don't use the right codes, the doctor or hospital won't get paid enough to cover services.

Charlton: Every doctor, every clinic, every hospital knows that a good coder means increased revenue for their office.

Good news, now that I'm done and ready to look for work. But I still need to find an entry-level job -- in a new field -- at my age.

Victoria Clinton: Actually, the medical profession is one of the few fields that actually prefers the older person.

Says instructor Victoria Clinton, although she is quick to remind me, that is, in this tight job market, if you're the creme de la creme of older workers.

Clinton: Any time you have more people entering a field, then they just simply up their standards of what they want

So do I have what it takes? Well, I applied for a job as an admin assistant in a small medical office and got a nice rejection letter. More than 75 people had responded to the doctor's ad in the first 48 hours. Oh well, not surprising considering the economy. But I can't help but feel... deflated. After spending 2 years retraining for a shiny new career in health care, the competition is a lot tougher than I'd imagined.

In Redwood City, this is Deb Monroe for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: Deb's next challenge? Advice from her daughter on snapping that perfect picture for her online resume. That story's coming up this weekend on our personal finance show, Marketplace Money.

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The more disturbing observation of this story is: a growing healthcare industry is a "bright spot" in a down economy? Doesn't that mean that our healthcare system is consuming that much more of our GDP? Is this really sustainable?

Unfortunately for you (but fortunate for companies like symbeo, one which I co-founded), the job market has been saturated with people who went to school for Med Assist/Med billing careers. The schools are usually for-profit but, for obvious reasons, do not guarantee placement. When we were recruiting, we literally received dozens of resumes from MA schools for 1 position.

The future of health cannot rely on coding but instead should pay providers flat fees like our customers do with us (see twitter.com/symbeo). The future of health will treat patients like customers (as in other industries) to deliver affordable quality care. Hope you find something soon but I fear this job market combined with the inevitable demise of the "fee for service" model will not be kind to all those people with these certifications.

There can be a difference between what you and a health insurance company consider healthy. Some insurers will say that you have a health condition if you smoke, are overweight, are taking prescriptions, or had a medical condition in the past. If this describes you, you may want to search and read "Wise Medical Insurance" on the web.

Please send this to Deb Monroe

Please do not read over the air


It is very difficult to get a coding job now. I have been an outpatient coder at a major hospital in florida for 10 years. I went to school for my RHIT, then sat for the CCS.
Coding is extremely stressful. You work on quantity and quality. From the moment you clock in to clock out all your time is accounted for.
Hospitals are now beginning to purchase computer programs that will eventually replace many coders.It will start with coding diagnostics and will eventually code outpatient records and inpatient records.
The new coding ICD 10 will start soon, and many facilities are hoping the computerized coding will help with this transition.

You may consider applying for work as a Clinical Documentation Specialist ,see JATA website, or working at some sort of registry for example a Tumor registry. There may be some contract agencies that may be willing to train.

If you have any question, please feel free to contact me.

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