Continuing Education for Nurses: A Guide

Editorial Team

Continuing Education for Nurses: A Guide

With the field of healthcare advancing so rapidly, it’s essential for doctors and nurses alike to continue their educations well beyond graduation. For most of them, continuing education is actually mandatory. Nurses in most states must complete CEU (continuing education unit) courses in order to renew their nursing licenses, so there’s more at stake than simply keeping up with the evolving fields of healthcare and medicine.

As you might expect, there are plenty of regulations governing the fulfilment of CEU requirements for nurses. However, there’s some flexibility as well. Nurses have to comply with all of the requirements established by their states of residence, but they can also choose from a variety of course topics and formats. They could attend an accredited seminar, for instance, or take a nursing CEU class online.

There are lots of little details to cover regarding nursing CEUs, but everything tends to fall into place once you’ve grasped the big picture. And if that’s what you’ve come to find out, you’re in the right place.

Each state sets its own CEU requirements for nurses

Whether you need to know the length of the license renewal period, its deadline, or how many courses you’ll need to take, the answers should be specific to your state of residence. There’s all kinds of information out there on these topics, but it varies depending on which state has issued it. Fortunately it’s easy to find state-by-state guides with the most important details, such as required contact hours, or how frequently you have to renew your nursing license.

Another factor to keep track of is whether your state wants you to spend a certain number of contact hours studying specific subjects. For example, a state may require nurses to spend 2 contact hours studying pain management, and leave the remaining contact hours up to the nurses’ preferences. CEU courses may have to cover other topics as well, such as HIV/AIDS, ethics, or sexual harassment or abuse, among others.

States also vary in the types of courses they approve. Some CEU courses are obvious choices, such as select nursing-related college classes, or online classes that are specifically designed as continuing education for nurses. Others, however, may not fit the mold quite as well. These include conferences, seminars, workshops, teaching and volunteer opportunities, or even being published by a peer-reviewed journal. If you’re considering a continuing education course but aren’t sure if it counts as a CEU, you can either contact your state’s board of nursing, or ask the course provider if their class or event is accredited for use as a nursing CEU. If the answer is yes, they’ll be able to give you the provider number that was issued by the state board of nursing or the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center).

Planning ahead is key

If there was ever a deadline that you shouldn’t procrastinate on, this is it. There are three main reasons for this:

  • First, because you don’t get a grace period for license renewal. If you don’t complete your CEU courses and turn in the correct documentation on time, your nursing license will be suspended or even revoked. What happens next? Well, since healthcare establishments can’t have a nurse with an expired license on the payroll, your employment status would probably be jeopardized. You’d also have to finish your remaining CEU courses, make an appeal to the state board of nursing, and hope they viewed your request with a kindly eye. Ideally they’d reinstate your nursing license after seeing that you completed the necessary courses, but that isn’t a guaranteed outcome. In some cases, the state board of nursing completely revokes the nurse’s license, meaning the nurse has to take the licensing exam for a second time.
  • Second, if you have to cram all of your courses in at the last minute, you’re far less likely to remember what you learned. Sure, the main purpose of CEUs is to ensure your nursing license renewal, but they’re also meant to continue your education as a nurse. If you forget half of what you learned within the first month after completing the courses, that’s just a big waste of time and effort.
  • Third, if you plan ahead, you’ll get to pick the courses that seem most engaging and relevant to you personally. There’s a huge variety of CEU courses available, but they aren’t all available whenever you want them to be. If you’re registering for courses in the few months leading up to the deadline, you’ll pretty much have to take what you can get. Plus, you’ll be in competition with all the other nurses who did the exact same thing. It could be tougher to enroll at all, let alone for the courses you actually want.

You’ll be required to document the CEU courses you complete

Documentation is necessary in order to demonstrate that you completed the required number of courses, but you shouldn’t throw all those papers away once your nursing license has been successfully renewed. Each state has its own regulations regarding how long nurses should keep records on completed CEU courses, so that’s something you’ll need to look up. You’ll also have to decide just how you’re going to keep track of those courses. It could be with an accordion file, an Excel spreadsheet, or an app that’s meant to track CEUs for nurses. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you hold onto the following information:

  • Number of contact hours awarded
  • Date of completion
  • Course ID number
  • Provider name
  • Course title

You should know the difference between contact hours and CEUs

Some people mistakenly use these two terms as if they mean the same thing, but this just causes unnecessary confusion. One CEU equals 10 contact hours, so if your state asks for 30 contact hours per license renewal period, a course that provides 1 CEU will be worth a third of the required contact hours.

The takeaway

Nursing CEUs are often thought of as intimidating, but with the right research and some planning ahead, they can become a lot more manageable.