What Counts (and Does Not Count) as Nursing Continuing Education?

November 12, 2021 · 3 Min Read

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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This guide explores requirements for nursing CEU courses. Learn about state requirements for nursing CEU courses and what counts and what does not count as CEU credits.

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Most states require nurses to complete continuing education to maintain their nursing license and periodically upgrade their skills. Continuing education units (CEUs) also contribute to improving the overall quality of patient care and avoiding the risk of liability for healthcare institutions. This guide explains what CEU nurses need to stay up to date and advance in their career.

Continued Education Explained

Nursing CEUs, which almost all states require for licensure renewal, cover the same kinds of topics found in nursing school curriculum, such as ethical practice in nursing, organizational leadership, and healthcare promotion and disease prevention.

State boards of nursing administer licensure requirements in each of the 50 states, including requirements for continuing professional education. Nurses should always check with their state board of nursing to determine current CEU regulations.

Nurses maintain sole responsibility for keeping track of their state CEU requirements. Those practicing in Nursing Licensure Compact states should ensure they meet all state requirements to retain their multistate license.

Five Things to Know About Nursing CEU

Nurses usually seek out CEUs that satisfy requirements for maintaining their employment, state licensure, or specific certifications. The cost of these courses varies, with free or low-cost options available. Keep in mind the following guidelines when choosing nursing CEU courses. CEUs must be accredited by a professional organization, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or an approved provider. However, state boards of nursing hold the final say on which accredited courses they accept. Before enrolling in any CEU course, make sure that it is accredited, and then check with the state board to ensure that the course meets state-specific requirements. Each state establishes its own requirements about contact hours and acceptable course formats. In addition to understanding state requirements, nurses should choose CEUs appropriate to their level. CEU courses accepted for maintaining an LPN/LVN license may not apply for RNs or advanced practice nurses. Because continuing education provides the opportunity to expand skills and promote career advancement, nurses may want to choose a course that interests them but is not accredited or approved by their state board. Nurses can go ahead and take these courses for professional development and personal growth, although they won't count toward fulfilling their CEU requirements. The cost of CEU courses ranges from free to $100 or more. Some healthcare employers offer free classes or subsidize or reimburse expenses for CEU training. Nursing professional associations, academic medical centers, and universities often offer free or low-cost CEU opportunities.

What Doesn't Count as Nursing CEU Courses?

Nurses can choose from an array of continuing education courses that cover almost every nursing topic and specialty. However, not all courses count as accredited nursing CEUs.

  • CPR and advanced lifesaving courses: All healthcare professionals take CPR and advanced lifesaving as part of their basic educational requirements. While states accept courses, such as the Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Life Support, and Neonatal Resuscitation Program for initial licensing and certification, renewal courses in these areas are not usually accepted for CEU credit. Nurses should check with their state board to verify acceptable courses.
  • Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses: CME refers to courses required for physicians, dentists, and other medical professionals to maintain their licenses. While advanced practice nurses may find CME relevant to their specialties or useful for their career goals, CME courses do not generally satisfy nursing CEU requirements. Some states have CME exceptions, so nurses should always check with their nursing board before enrolling.
  • College courses not specifically for nurses: Nurses seeking CEUs may enroll in college courses that deal specifically with nursing. However, science, mathematics, and general education courses, which often serve as prerequisites for BSN, MSN, and DNP degrees, do not qualify as nursing CEUs.
  • Nurse internships, residencies, on-the-job training, and workplace programs: These kinds of hands-on clinical experiences and in-service programs that focus on workplace policies and procedures do not fulfill CEU requirements.
  • Attending professional meetings or conventions: Participating in these kinds of gatherings may contribute to professional development, but attendance alone does not qualify for CEU credit. However, these professional meetings often sponsor accredited seminars or other approved educational activities designed for attendees that may fulfill CEU requirements.
  • Courses in self-improvement, financial gain, job-search activities, and liberal arts topics not related to nursing: Although these courses may enhance personal and professional growth, they do not count as CEUs. Nursing CEUs should develop knowledge in specific specialties, clinical practice, and technical areas directly related to the profession.

What Does Count as Nursing CEU Courses?

Nursing CEU courses must be state-approved and accredited by a recognized organization, such as a professional nursing association, a school, or an employer. Nurses can also find free continuing education courses accredited by the ANCC and other healthcare organizations and government agencies. Healthcare facilities, such as medical centers or clinics often offer free or inexpensive CEU courses for their employees.

Nurses take CEU courses in a variety of in-person or online delivery formats. They may participate in conference workshops, seminars, and webinars, or study independently using self-paced packets. Depending on state board approval, nurses who study topics in professional literature can earn CEU credits by passing a test on the content area.

Nursing Continued Education: FAQ

What's the difference between contact hours and CEUs?

One contact hour refers to 50-60 minutes of instruction in a board-approved class or clinical or didactic activity. One CEU equals 10 contact hours. Because nurses must keep track of their continuing education credits to fulfill license renewal requirements, they should pay careful attention to course descriptions to determine the exact number of CEU credits they will earn by enrolling.

How many nursing CEUs do I need?

Not every state requires continuing education for nurses. Thirty-nine states, Washington, D.C., and all U.S. territories require completion of CEUs for license renewal but the number of credits and length of time between renewals varies widely. Many states require one-time or ongoing periodic refresher classes or specific content in areas, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, substance abuse, and ethics. Employers may also mandate their nurses to fulfill CEU requirements.

What counts as CEUs for nurses?

CEUs must be state-approved and accredited by organizations like a professional nursing association, a school, or an employer. CEUs can be earned by attending in-person or online courses, webinars, professional conferences, and clinical workshops. Common areas for continuing education include nursing laws and ethics, clinical topics, conflict management and communication skills, pharmacology, and advocacy.

How can I get free nursing CE?

Nurses can find a surprising number of free continuing education courses accredited by the ANCC and other healthcare organizations and government agencies. Healthcare facilities often offer their employees free or inexpensive CEU courses. Because CEUs are considered professional development, nurses may apply their cost as a tax deduction.

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Reviewed by:

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC, 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 here.

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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