Student Spotlight: Deserai Gerlach

Warroad native pursuing A.A.S. in Medical Coding Specialist program

Deserai Gerlach, 36, was working as a medical laboratory technician when she decided to leave that career to care for her three young children, two boys and a girl, ages four and two plus a newborn.

“I was a stay-at-home mom for four years,” Deserai said. “I had been wanting to find a career that would allow me to work from home once my children are in school full-time. A family member of mine works in the medical coding field and recommended I investigate pursuing this career for myself.”

Deserai started in the Medical Coding Specialist program, which is delivered with a hybrid approach or 100 percent online, in fall semester 2021. She is looking forward to graduating in May 2023.

“My career plans are centered on getting a remote position in medical coding within a large healthcare system,” she reported. “After a few years of working in the field, I hope to obtain a position with a supervisory role.”

Adrienne Zarn, CPC, CANPC: Faculty perspective…

Adrienne Zarn

Deserai is a dynamic researcher and committed student at DCTC. This year, Deserai became interested in medical coding and contacted an Allina Health human resources recruiter to learn how to obtain a medical coding job as well as what degrees and certifications are required. The recruiter recommended taking courses at DCTC.

The DCTC Medical Coding Specialist program is now licensed through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)—and we proctor certification exams on site. Our prior medical coding students are now coding in healthcare organizations; they are powerful examples of our program’s quality.

Deserai came to us through this type of testament and her ability to put her goals in action. She is a high achiever, and I know she will be rewarded with a good career in medical coding.

Adrienne Zarn, CPC, CANPC
Medical Coding Specialist Instructor
Dakota County Technical College

More about Deserai…

Originally from Warroad, Minnesota, a city of just under 1,800 residents on Lake of the Woods in Roseau County, Deserai graduated from Roseau High School, Class of 2003. She went on to earn her Medical Laboratory Technician A.A.S. from Lake Superior College in 2008.

Deserai has been married nine years. Her husband, Chad, serves as the principal of Cambridge Middle School in Cambridge, Minnesota. Deserai and Chad have three children, Camden, 8, Callen, 6, and Cecelia, 4. The family has one dog, a 10-year-old yellow Lab named Maddie Tater.

In her free time, Deserai enjoys being at home with her family.

“A homebody by nature, I love spending time with my three children and husband,” she said. “I love to cook, read mystery novels, and binge-watch old episodes of The Office or Grey’s Anatomy.”

Deserai and her family reside in Harris, Minnesota, a city with nearly 1,200 residents on Interstate 35 in Chisago County.

Deserai Gerlach Q & A

What do you like best about the Medical Coding Specialist program?

Although I am only a few weeks into the program, I already love it. I consider myself a very organized person with a great attention to detail who loves to follow the rules—so this program checks all the boxes for me.

Why did you choose healthcare as your career field?

I enjoy the variety that healthcare brings. There are so many different specialties in which a person can work, and no two patients are the same. Healthcare is constantly evolving and changing for the better, and it feels good to be part of something like that. I also feel that there is a lot of job security in healthcare.

What do you find most interesting about the medical coding specialist occupation?

I was first drawn to medical coding because I liked the idea of having the ability to work from home. After looking into the program a little more and actually discovering what they do, I found the idea of telling whole story of the patient interesting. All the information I need is within my coding books and the guidelines and rules written clearly for me—no guesswork.

Three words that describe you as a college student:

What is your favorite DCTC course so far and why?

Favorite so far is ICD-10-CM/PCS Coding for sure. Once I put my mind to something, I just want to do it. So the class that actually lets me do some coding will obviously be my favorite.

What advice would you give students thinking about majoring in Medical Coding Specialist?

Take the ICD-10-CM/PCS course. If you enjoy it from the start like I did, medical coding may be a career for you!

What person has influenced you the most in life and why?

I would have to say my husband.  He is an extremely hard worker who sets big goals for himself and doesn’t quit until he achieves them.  He pushes me to do my best everyday, and supports me in all my endeavors—big or small.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

In 20 years, I hope to be working remotely in medical coding as my husband and I travel as snowbirds do. Hopefully, my husband will be retired, and I will still be working a job that brings me joy.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


More about the Medical Coding Specialist program…

The Medical Coding Specialist program prepares you to assume an entry-level medical coding position with supervisory opportunities in physician and non-physician practitioner clinics, acute-care hospitals, third-party payers and consulting firms. Medical coding specialists play a vital role in the healthcare industry.

As a graduate of the DCTC program, you will have working knowledge of healthcare law and a full understanding of the need to protect patient privacy. The  program utilizes a simulated electronic health record designed with industry standards that facilitates practice in abstracting patient information.

You will gain knowledge in electronic health record software systems as well as the legal and managerial aspects of health information. Other duties include:

  • Coding diagnoses
  • Processing reimbursements
  • Managing release of medical information
  • Maintaining quality assurance
  • Protecting patient data privacy

After completing your Medical Coding Specialist Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree, you will be able to code both procedure and diagnosis. With advanced preparation, you’ll be ready to take the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) Certified Professional Coder CPC®Certification Exam. The 60-credit A.A.S. and 40-credit diploma are delivered as a hybrid program or 100 percent online.


Deserai Gerlach 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Yoga
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Hawaii
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Zip- lined into the ocean while in Mexico
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Make all my family debt free 2) Yearlong vacation traveling the world 3) Invest wisely
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: Outlander
  6. Time period you would explore if you could time travel: 1700s
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Establish enough savings for an early retirement
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Penguin
  9. Dream occupation: Food critic
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Dead: Princess Diana; Alive: Jason Matheson from myTalk107.1
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Play the piano
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Lack of compassion
Learn more about the Medical Coding Specialist program at DCTC by contacting:

Adrienne Zarn, CPC, CANPC
Medical Coding Specialist Faculty

Medical Records and Health Information Specialists

Medical records and health information specialists organize, manage, and code health information data.

Work Environment
Medical records and health information specialists typically spend many hours at a computer. Most work full time.

How to Become a Medical Records or Health Information Specialist
Medical records and health information specialists typically need a postsecondary certificate to enter the occupation, although some qualify with a high school diploma. Others need an associate’s or higher degree. Certification is often required.

The median annual wage for health information technologists, medical registrars, surgical assistants, and healthcare practitioners and technical workers, all other was $51,840 in May 2020.

The median annual wage for medical dosimetrists, medical records specialists, and health technologists and technicians, all other was $44,090 in May 2020.

Job Outlook
Overall employment of medical records and health information specialists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 34,300 openings for medical records and health information specialists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

— Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook


This career is currently seeing very high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate is 10.4 percent, or well above the statewide average. There will be a need for about 3,285 new Medical Records and Health Information Technicians to meet market demand between 2018–2028. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

Minnesota State CAREERwise Education