For Mandy Kiser, a native of Letcher County, finding a lucrative and sustaining career in her hometown seemed many days like a pipe dream.
Kiser loved working in the healthcare field, having run the gamut with positions from X-ray technician to nurse but realizing quickly that her work and personal schedules wouldn’t mesh in a way that allowed to her fully benefit from her career. By the start of 2018, she had been working part-time for a local clinic in her area as an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) so that she would be able to make time for her children’s schedules.
“It was my choice. I wanted to work part-time so I could be there for my boys, but I also wanted to grow my career. I wanted to advance my career,” Kiser explains, leaning back in her chair at the Kentucky Career Center JobSight in Whitesburg.
Struggling with the decision of whether or not to stick with her part-time schedule, stop working to go back to school and further her nursing career, or go into a whole other side of the healthcare industry, Kiser says she began hearing rumblings about work-from-home jobs being offered throughout the region. But she was unsure if that would fit with her healthcare interests.
“I started hearing a lot about telecommuting and working from home, so I started looking into [healthcare positions] but I didn’t have a lot of the qualifications needed at the time,” she says.
“One day, though, I was just scrolling through Facebook and I saw that EKCEP was taking applications for a medical coding program. I was like, I know everybody in Southeastern Kentucky is going to apply for this,” she continues, chuckling. “But, I did it anyway.”
The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. partnered with Teleworks USA and Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) in 2018 to offer an inaugural medical coding training program that would be offered completely online. EKCEP covered the cost of tuition for Career Step’s online training used to deliver the 640-hour curriculum, along with textbooks, software, and a voucher to take certification exams. Participants who earned certifications also received expert job placement assistance.
The medical coding program was also part of the TechHire Eastern Kentucky initiative, which aims to provide fast-track opportunities for careers in the digital economy. EKCEP serves as the regional and strategic lead for the initiative, which has received federal support from the Appalachian Regional Commission through a $2.75 million POWER grant.
Within a month after submitting her application, Kiser received confirmation that she had been one of the few chosen out of the more than 400 applicants to start the program in May 2018.
“My first thought was that I couldn’t wait to tell my husband and my two little boys because each morning before school we’d say our prayers, and for I couldn’t tell you how long, included in our morning prayers was that mommy would get accepted into the medical coding program,” Kiser says, a smile spreading across her face. “I thanked God for letting me have this opportunity. We were all just really excited.”
Once the program began, though, the excitement waned a bit as the reality of the work ahead of her set in. Kiser chose to continue working her part-time LPN position while she was in the program—something she says would have been impossible had she been going to school on her own or with a different program. She credits her success to the program’s structure: Students were essentially able to set their own schedule, so the course could be finished in as little as four months or as many as twelve.
“You had to set goals for yourself or you’d never get finished. I would make a schedule at the beginning of the week because I’d have to make that schedule around work and the boys’ activities and family life,” she says. “I don’t think anything else would have worked for me. This program was very doable for a working mother—it was a very good setup for someone who has to keep working.”
With the help of EKCEP, Kiser found a contracting work-from-home job as a medical coder with a major insurance company and was working while finishing up the last few months of her course in January 2019.
“I applied for that job in November, and just because I had experience as a nurse viewing medical records and that I was in the process of obtaining my CPC (certified professional coder) certificate I was accepted for the position,” Kiser explains.
By March 2019, Kiser was finished with the medical coding program—taking only 10 months to complete it—and was ready to take her final certification exams.
“Oh my gosh! I tell you, the medical coding test was very hard,” she says, laughing with relief from the memory. “The program definitely prepares you for it, though. When I left that day I thought for sure I failed it, but after six very long days of waiting to find out my results I passed my first time.”
Once she was armed with her new certifications, Kiser was offered a permanent telecommuting position with the major insurance company she had been contracting with.
“It’s been event after event since starting the medical coding program. Getting my first job with that health insurance company—and that was a great salary—and now starting as a permanent employee with a great salary. It’s just proof that with a little hard work and dedication that you can stay right here at home in Southeastern Kentucky and bring a great salary into the area,” Kiser says.
If anything had been different, if Kiser hadn’t happened upon that Facebook ad from EKCEP or had decided not to take a chance on applying for the program, she says she knows her road to her dream job would have been much, much rougher, and she may still be on it today.
“I would still be searching for a way to make my dream come true. I couldn’t afford it at the time to go back to college,” she explains. “I guess if I hadn’t come across the medical coding program from EKCEP I would still be trying to pursue my dream, but it would have taken longer, wouldn’t have been near as easy.”
“I’m now able to work from home and bring a great salary into the local area. I know a lot of people are moving away from here, searching for work, and I would just like to urge everyone to look into work-from-home careers,” Kiser adds. “There are lots of jobs out there, with skill sets from your high school diploma, GED to a bachelor’s degree. You don’t have to move away from home to find a good-paying job.”
Since 2015, Teleworks USA Hubs or Digital Career Centers in Annville, Beattyville, Booneville, Harlan, Hazard, Hyden, Louisa, Manchester, and Pike County have helped bring jobs to more than 2,400 Eastern Kentuckians, and those positions carry an estimated $54.9 million in economic impact in new annual wages to teleworkers across the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields.
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services and operates the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, which provide access to more than a dozen state and federal programs that offer employment and training assistance for jobseekers and employers all under one roof. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.