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CODE for success: NTC celebrates grant to help medical coding program

Sue Sutton, instructor and adviser for NTC’s health care support programs, speaks during a luncheon to celebrate a grant received for the school's medical coding program on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Prospective Northwest Technical College students got a taste of the school’s medical coding program Friday.

The school secured a $29,000 grant last spring from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota that will defray tuition and other expenses for students in the coding program, which teaches students how to interpret medical records to help healthcare providers bill insurance companies. Technical college staff hosted a luncheon on Friday to tell interested residents about the ins and outs of the online program.

“As long as you have the internet, you’re good to go,” Kaci Petersen, an adjunct faculty member there, said to luncheon attendees. Students can take the program entirely online if they choose, or head to the NTC building to study or get extra help. The three-year-old program has roughly 40 students enrolled, staff estimated, and the foundation’s grant could make it cheaper for about a dozen students.

“What we tried to do when we set up this grant was to eliminate any barriers to getting an education,” said Sue Sutton, an instructor and adviser for the school’s healthcare support programs. The grant is exclusively for Minnesota women, and can help them secure a better income and enhance their lives, Sutton said.

Sanford Health leaders hope to hire dozens of new doctors and support staff over the next few years, and Petersen said medical coding is an integral part of any healthcare system.

“Without being able to assign accurate codes, you don't get accurate reimbursement, and without accurate reimbursement, a health system can't function at its optimal capacity,” she told the Pioneer. Petersen herself is a a 2003 NTC graduate who works as a medical coder at Sanford.

The program can last 18 months to two years, staff said, and students can aim for a certificate, diploma or an associate’s of applied science degree.

“Because it’s a technical job and healthcare’s in demand across the country, it’s relatively easy to find a job afterward,” Petersen said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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