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How UC Davis Health Is Bolstering Neurodivergent Talent With Pilot Program

Analysis  |  By Jasmyne Ray  
   July 01, 2024

The program offers a career path for neurodivergent individuals, enabling them to be more independent.

Medical coders are an integral part of revenue cycle operations. But with the ongoing workforce shortage and the level of expertise needed for the role, the talent pool of qualified candidates is small.

Tami McMasters Gomez, director of coding and CDI program at UC Davis Health, saw an opportunity to address it while integrating a cause close to her heart: Neurodiverse individuals finding fulling careers.

Working with the UC Davis MIND Institute, a center for the study and care of individuals with autism and neurodevelopmental conditions, McMasters Gomez has developed a small pilot program that includes a paid medical coding internship specifically designed for neurodivergent individuals. Being neurodivergent herself, Gomez said evidence shows many neurodivergent individuals have an affinity for tasks like data abstraction.

“It occurred to me that coding, which is really reviewing clinical documentation, abstracting that out and converting it to a numeric diagnosis or procedure code was in line with the skill sets that would accommodate [neurodiverse] individuals,” she said.

The program offers a career pathway to individuals who may not have had one otherwise, giving them the means to be more independent. The MIND Institute contributed infrastructure support and consultation on candidates for the program, which currently has two interns.

As the population of coders becomes more experienced it will open up more entry-level coding positions, and Gomez believes this program could help get younger generations interested in coding as well as helping the underrepresented neurodiverse population.

“The ability to work in a remote environment was a key aspect of this because many people in the neurodiverse space face challenges in social situations,” said Gomez, who was able to get much of the educational materials donated to the program. “This offers a unique workspace because most of the coding workforce today is 100% remote.”

The self-paced study portion of the pilot program will last approximately 12 weeks, with check-ins every week. Interns will then be assigned a mentor and begin coding cases in the EHR, as well as using a real encoder. This offers real-time experience to get familiar with the workflow and receive feedback on their performance.

After that, the program team assesses whether the intern is ready to sit for an introductory coding credential. The cost of sitting for the test is covered by the program.

The main challenge for the program is funding. Program leaders are monitoring the progress of the first two interns, making note of key performance indicators, including a base coding accuracy rate of 90% and productivity standards. They’ll also be measuring feedback from the candidates on their engagement and the program’s impact on their lives.

All of these factors will play a role in whether the pilot program is a success and will be extended.

Gomez is working with staffing agencies to help place interns in coding roles after the internship. As more people learn about the program, she hopes it will encourage more participation.

“I’m hoping this becomes a national program that supports organizational goals around DEI,” she said. “It supports those people in the neurodiverse space that might otherwise not have an opportunity."

Jasmyne Ray is the revenue cycle editor at HealthLeaders. 


Its been shown that neurodivergent individuals have an affinity for tasks like data abstraction.

The UC Davis MIND Institute is supporting the program, which currently has two participants.

The program offers real-time experience and feedback, with participants having the opportunity to sit for their coding credentials.

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