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The Nurse’s Continuing Education Toolkit

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For nurses, continuing education is a professional requirement. Their state board of nursing may require continuing education hours for license renewal. In fact, some states, like Florida, require specific topics such as domestic violence and the prevention of medical errors to be completed. In addition to mandating the content that must be covered, states often approve which courses meet their requirements. Furthermore, nurse’s places of employment require specific courses to be completed as a way to validate clinical competence and education. Common types of continuing education for nurses include:

  • Annual Healthcare Employee Requirements
  • State Mandated Nurse Continuing Education
  • Professional Development Activities

Typical delivery formats of nurse continuing education courses include:

  • Conferences
  • Live Classes
  • Online Classes
  • Online and Live Webinars
  • Self-Study Educational Packets

Nurses’ Problem with Continuing Education

Despite the variety of course delivery formats, continuing education still remains a “requirement” for most nurses as opposed to an “exciting learning opportunity”. This is especially true when nurses do not have a choice over the courses that are mandated and provided by their employer. Yearly annual employer mandated courses are often perceived as homework to be completed by a certain deadline before their annual performance review.

Solutions to the Continuing Education Problem

As an employee, nurses have any option but to complete their mandated employee education, if they wish to remain employed. If a healthcare organization is unwilling to change their traditional delivery format of annual competency courses to an engaging format, then a nurse’s only real option is to:

  • Change their perception of mandatory continuing education. The best way to accomplish this is to understand the real value of continuing education. Continuing education benefits nurses, patient, employers, and serves to advance the profession as a whole.

It is easy to initially dismiss continuing education’s value due to the required nature of it. But, there are benefits beyond fulfilling an obligation. For example, continuing education benefits for nurses include:

  • Staying current in evidence based practices in order to provide safe and quality patient care.
  • Minimizing legal risks. As professionals, nurses are expected to stay up to date by keeping their practice current. Failure to adhere to current nursing practices could be have potential legal ramifications.
  • Landing a promotion or a coveted position when it becomes available.
  • Increased Pay. Many organization include continuing education in their employee performance evaluations.
  • Professional and Personal Satisfaction.

Another solution is to focus on continuing education opportunities that are not controlled by an employer. Nurses usually seek continuing education outside of work in order to meet their total requirements. Another way to get excited about continuing education is to:

  • Seek out novel ways to meet continuing education requirements. Make it fun and different!

For example, if a nurse typically completes online classes and live webinars, they could attend a professional conference. This might provide the change of pace needed to become excited about learning. If planned strategically, a conference trip could be turned into a professional networking event, an educational opportunity, and a min-vacation.

If a nurse is bored with conferences, they can find formats and courses that interest them. Maybe, a live continuing education webinar viewing at their home with coworkers and a potluck dinner could serve the two fold purpose of education and stress relief. The overall goal for nurses is to stay competent in their nursing skills, while enjoying their chosen profession.

Specialty Certification, Continuing Education, & Competency

Specialty certification is a growing continuing education trend because it is a standardized way for nurses to demonstrate competency in their chosen specialty. Various nurse organizations offer specialty nurse certification. A few examples of these organizations are:

  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
  • The National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

There are certain requirements that nurses must meet in addition to passing a certification test in order to become specialty certified. Most organizations offer a test blueprint and self-study information to assist nurses in test preparation. However, nurses that feel like would benefit from an extensive content review might benefit from an exam review course in their specialty subject. While organizations do not necessarily endorse specific exam review courses, nurses usually network with others to determine what successful exam takers have used.

Self-studying for specialty certification testing does not result in fulfilling state approved education requirements. However, completing approved established certification preparation courses may fulfill work or state requirements. Furthermore, after earning specialty certification, specific continuing education requirements must be met to renew a nurse’s certification.

According to the ACCN (2014), the benefits of nurse specialty certification are:

  • It validates a nurse’s competency and skills to patients and their families.
  • It helps create a culture of professionalism and employee retention in the workplace.
  • Hospitals can use nurse certification as a selling point in the increasingly competitive healthcare marketplace. For Magnet certified hospitals, a portion of their nurses must be specialty certified.
  • Specialty certification helps nurses to position themselves for career advancement opportunities.

Free Tools for Nurse Continuing Education

Nurses educational needs vary between employers, specialties, and states. Furthermore, their educational needs are usually met with the combination of free, purchased, or employer reimbursed courses. Many professional nurse organizations offer free continuing education courses for their members. Nurses that do not have access to free professional nurse organization free courses can still find free courses to complete online.

For example, a great place for free nurse contact hours is Abbot Nutrition. Abbot has a large variety of Neonatal Nursing contact hours. They also have some courses that are useful to a variety of nurse specialties and that are usually worth 1 contact hour. Here are just a few of the free continuing education courses available from different sources:

Abbot Nutrition Health Institute Courses (Contact Hours)

  • Decoding FPIES: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Nutrition Intervention
  • Demystifying Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Implementation of Nutrition Management
  • Discover the Leader in You – Part 1: Don’t Hold Back
  • Discover the Leader in You – Part 2: Applying Leadership in your Everyday Practices
  • Emerging Research on the Role of Specific Nutrients on Cognitive and Visual Development
  • Nursing Currents: The 7th Vital Sign – The Role of Nutrition in Oncology Nursing
  • Nursing Currents: Improving Patient Outcomes and Reducing Cost of Care with Nutrition Therapy
  • Nurse Currents: Human Milk: Composition and Benefits for the Breastfeeding Dyad
  • Nutrition at Work: Weight Management Strategies for Diabetes
  • Practicing Under the Influence of Fatigue
  • Strengthening Outcomes in the Aging Population: Building Knowledge
  • Your Collaborative Role in Reducing Readmissions
  • The Impact of Early Nutrition Screening and Intervention on Reducing Unnecessary Hospital Readmissions
  • Many More!

Gannett Education Courses

(Contact Hours)

  • ASD: Treatment and Therapies
  • Administration of Moderate Sedation/Analgesia
  • HCAHPS Is All About Patient Satisfaction
  • Heart Health Empowering Women
  • Coaching Makes Nurses’ Careers Grow
  • Earning Degrees By Distance Education
  • What is Early Intervention? Treatments and Therapies before or after a Diagnosis
  • Weight Management: Facts Not Fads
  • Advance Directives: Conversations Matter
  • Many More!

The Institute for John Hopkins Nursing Courses

(The free ones do not include contact hours.)

  • eDiabetes Review
  • eNeonatal Review
  • eCystic Fibrosis Review
  • eMedical Dermatology Review
  • eViral Hepatitis Review


Continuing education is mandatory for nurses. However, nurses can make the choice to adopt a positive mindset, understand the benefits, and change their habits in order to rejuvenate their educational experiences. Furthermore, by obtaining their specialty nurse certification, their knowledge base grows as they expand career opportunities while making a commitment to quality patient care.

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