The Nurse’s Guide to Continuing Education

Once you've earned your nursing degree and passed the National Council Licensure Exam, you're not in the clear as far as education goes. Nursing is a constantly changing profession and as a nurse, you must be a lifelong learner to ensure your patients receive the best care. For this reason, most states require continuing education (CE) to maintain your nursing license, ensuring that you stay up to date with nursing best practices.

This page explores continuing education requirements for nurses, different types of continuing education, and how to pay for or find free continuing education courses for nurses.

Continuing Education in Nursing Explained

To qualify as continuing education for nurses, CE must be designed and delivered by qualified organizations. You can find CE opportunities through professional associations, nursing schools, course directories, or peer-reviewed publications. The right CE for you depends on your work focus and career goals.

Once you find an opportunity that interests you, register and attend the course or conference. If you are completing a reading of a peer-reviewed article, be prepared to take a test at the end. Other providers may document your attendance. Keep track of your hours to report.

Most states require CE to maintain your license, but the hours vary. Some states also require CE in specific topics. Check with your state board of nursing to find the continuing education requirements for nurses in your state.

Why Continuing Education Is Important for Nurses

CE ensures that you understand and apply the latest developments in nursing care. It can also protect healthcare institutions from legal liability. Additionally, CE may help you develop your skills for your next career move.

Continuing education courses for nurses cover the same range of topics you'd find in nursing school, including medicine, health promotion, communication and leadership, and legal and ethical aspects of nursing. Whatever your position, CE can help develop your expertise.

Types of Continuing Education

  • Annual healthcare employee requirements
  • State-mandated nurse CE
  • Professional development activities

Continuing Education Formats

  • Conferences
  • Live classes
  • Online classes
  • Online and live webinars
  • Self-study educational packets

Who Offers Nursing Continuing Education Courses

You can find continuing education courses from a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

  • This nonprofit provides free continuing education for nurses through online courses on nutrition, including infant nutrition, nutrition after surgery, and related topics.
  • Nurse.com hosts free continuing education courses for nurses on career topics and nursing practice. Most offer one or 1.5 hours of credit.
  • Johns Hopkins offers free and paid online courses on particular conditions, such as HIV and multiple sclerosis, and general nursing practice.
  • This website publishes lists of continuing education unit (CEU) courses, including a section on free continuing education for nurses. You can search the listings by topic.
  • This site offers unlimited CEU courses for an annual fee of $19.95. Topics include preparing for bioterrorism, medical errors, and smoking cessation; they also cover specific health conditions or concerns.

Paying for CE

Continuing education prices range from free to several hundred dollars. Many employers pay or share the cost of continuing education for nurses. Some large hospitals, especially academic medical centers, may themselves be education providers or subscribe to services that deliver online CE for nurses. Others reimburse expenses. If your employer doesn't pay for CE, many nursing associations and other nonprofits provide scholarships.

Alternative Ways to Fulfill Continuing Education Requirements

Many professional conferences can meet continuing education requirements for nurses. Be sure to check the conference listing to see how many hours of credit it offers and how to document it. You can also read professional literature and pass a test. Again, be sure to check that passing the test qualifies as CE.

CEU Accreditation

Like nursing school accreditation, CEU accreditation confirms that continuing education courses for nurses provide reliable evidence-based information and are delivered in an appropriate format. You can find accredited programs from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or through a provider you know, such as a professional association, and checking which courses meet continuing education requirements for nurses.

Nursing Continuing Education Requirements by State

Each state holds different continuing education requirements for nurses. Below describes the number of contact hours each state requires for continued licensing. Many states include additional requirements or accept alternate forms of education, such as a refresher course. Check your state board of nursing for specifics.

State

Source: NetCE

Continuing Nurse Education FAQs


How can I get free nursing CE?

You can get free continuing education for nurses from many providers, including nursing schools, nursing associations, or government organizations. Your employer may also provide free courses or help you pay for courses.

What counts as continuing education units (CEUs) for nurses?

CEUs must be accredited by a recognized organization, such as the ANCC or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Courses, conferences, and webinars are all common sources for continuing education for nurses.

What is the difference between contact hours, continuing medical education (CME), and CEUs?

One contact hour is 60 minutes of learning. One CME is the same as one contact hour. However, one CEU equals 10 contact hours. Be sure to review the course descriptions for continuing education courses for nurses to be sure which they offer.

How can I get CEUs fast?

Online asynchronous courses, meaning you can take at any time within a certain time frame, are usually the fastest way to meet continuing education requirements for nurses if you're close to your license renewal deadline. You can find extensive listings of courses on sites like rn.org or the Institute for Johns Hopkins Nursing Courses.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason is a nursing professional with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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