(Media release from Georgia Northwestern Technical College):

A graduating student at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) says her college career has also been an education for her daughter.

Kristin Johnson, 33, started classes at GNTC in 2010; she previously earned Phlebotomy Technician and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certifications from GNTC and will graduate in May with her associate degree in Business Healthcare Technology specializing in compliance and reimbursement. She has attended classes on the Walker County Campus in Rock Spring.

“I did this for my 6-year-old daughter to show her it is never too late to complete a goal or to go back to school,” she said.

“I have a long career in healthcare. I worked as a CNA for eight years and as a phlebotomist for two years,” she said, adding that she had originally intended to become a registered nurse, but discovered the career wasn’t the right fit for her while juggling her full-time job and attending CNA classes full-time.

She was working in retail when she lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her instructors at GNTC pointed out she had a natural aptitude for medical coding, she said. When GNTC Instructor of Business Health Care Technology Gina Stephens told her about a job opening at Comprehensive Medical Solutions Inc. (CompMed), she leapt at the opportunity to work for the medical billing service.

“Medical coding is a much tougher field than many people realize,” Stephens said. “The conventions and guidelines just for diagnostic coding are 150 pages of rather dry reading. In addition, experienced coders must be able to defend their code selections in cases of audits, so communication skills are important.”

Coders must show attention to detail, have good computer skills, solve problems and be team players who can work with billers, physicians, patients and insurance companies, Stephens explained.

“Becoming skilled at medical coding requires curiosity and a willingness to research incorrect codes. Kristin has shown herself willing to do the hard work necessary to master this challenging field,” she said.

Stephens characterized her teaching style as emphasizing knowledge over grades. She prefers that students make mistakes in the learning process, rather than negatively affecting patients by making the mistakes on the job.

“Falling down is part of learning, but not getting back up is failing,” Stephens said.

Johnson said since joining the CompMed team in December 2021, she has grown to love her coworkers and her job in which she follows up on denied medical claims to learn why they were denied and what documentation may need to be resent, recoded or adjusted. She said she cannot code until she completes her associate degree, but once she completes the degree, she will be coding full-time.

This desire to keep learning and improving impressed CompMed so much that Johnson was named Team Member of the Month in March.

“Kristin is very driven. She wants to do things correctly and accurately,” CompMed Director of Operations Valerie Sisson said. “She wants to know when she makes a mistake so that she can make it right.”

Sisson expects Johnson will apply the same dedication and superior job performance when she starts coding.

“You will not fail if you keep trying,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she looks forward to coding full-time because as she handles that responsibility, she will learn in what area she wants to specialize within the coding field.

“I’ve worked hard the last three years,” she said, “I’m excited about graduating and actually becoming successful, getting a career for myself and creating a secure life for my daughter.”

“One of my favorite quotes is that it is ‘attitude, not aptitude, that determines altitude,’” Stephens said. “It is especially gratifying when a student has both aptitude and a positive attitude as Kristin does, and it is paying off. I am eager to see what altitude she reaches as she is on the rise!”