As one of the first graduates of the Pueblo Community College medical coding apprenticeship, Taryn Browne already knew the value of such programs. She had an opportunity to do an apprenticeship at a vet clinic when she was getting her bachelor’s degree.
A longtime resident of Denver, Browne moved to Pueblo several years ago. When she decided to invest in a new career that would allow more time with her infant daughter, a friend who works as a medical coder let her know about PCC’s new program.
“She (said), ‘I think you should maybe check into this.’ I swear it was maybe two weeks later the classes were starting. All the timing worked out perfectly and it felt right,” said Browne.
Medical coders translate information from patient records into codes that are used for record keeping and billing. Students who are accepted into the apprenticeship program take classes online and work with a partnering organization – in Browne’s case, Parkview – so they can train and earn income simultaneously.
“I could go to work 15-20 hours a week, so I wasn’t separated from (my daughter) as much and could come and go. I had real flexibility,” she said.
The support of PCC’s Health Information Technologies coordinator Marianne Horvath and HIT faculty member Ronda Gasperetti was key to her success, Browne said.
“They said, ‘We’ll help you. We’ll do whatever you need.’ They were really open and had resources,” said Browne. “In order to be in a position to learn something new, a person has to be emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable to learn. That’s true for children and adults. I think Marianne and Ronda, as well as the rest of the faculty, do that very well. It’s critical.”
Medical coders are in high demand nationally. Though there was no guarantee a full-time job would be available at Parkview when Browne completed the apprenticeship, that’s what happened. Because of the experience she gained through the apprenticeship, as well as two national certification exams she passed after completing the program, Browne was hired as a Coder II, a step above a typical entry-level position.
A Coder II can translate things associated with procedures such as same-day surgeries that are more intricate. They require a higher level of critical thinking to match everything to its proper code.
Browne said the mentorship of Ariel Gallegos, her supervisor at Parkview, continues to be instrumental to her growth and success.
“She’s right there to help me. Her sharing of knowledge is so important. It’s an investment in each other at various stages of our lives,” she said. “Ariel is almost 20 years younger than me. She has really mastered her craft and she’s sharing it with someone who’s almost in another generation.”
Browne is now a vocal ambassador for the apprenticeship program. She hopes it continues to grow and believes it can do more than help students redefine their lives.
“Our country is in a terrible mess both economically and mentally/emotionally. I think the value that PCC has in their programs could help us work together, invest in each other and provide opportunities for our community to take things in a better direction,” she said.