What Counts (and Does Not Count) as Continuing Education for Nurses?
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Your nursing education does not end after you get licensed. Nursing requires lifelong education to maintain your license and job and to ensure overall patient care quality. Continuing education units (CEUs) also let you build skills in a nursing specialty. Each state has specific criteria about what qualifies as continued education —and what doesn't.
Discover what counts as continuing education for nurses, how much courses costs, and where to find free online programs.
Continued Education Explained
Continuing education for nurses provides the needed training in the latest technology and the best practices in nursing to deliver safe patient outcomes.
Nurses complete CEUs after graduating from a formal nursing program. They take workshops, read peer-reviewed academic journals and complete accompanying exams, or attend state-approved seminars and conferences. Topics cover similar subjects studied in nursing school. These courses may operate live and in person or online through recorded webinars.
Nurses can also use this opportunity to become certified (or recertified) as a nurse midwife, nurse anesthesiologist, or nurse practitioner.
State nursing boards set requirements for nursing CEs and course topics — some boards may require courses in specific subjects like prescription opioid drugs or pain management. For example, nurses in Texas need to complete 20 contact hours every two years, while nurses in Tennessee need five contact hours.
For nursing CEs to count they must be accredited by a reputable nursing organization such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or a school.
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 a licensed practical nurse license may not apply for registered nurses 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 they may reimburse expenses for CEU training. Nursing professional associations, academic medical centers, and universities often offer free or low-cost CEU opportunities.
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What Doesn't Count as Nursing CEU Courses?
Nurses have the option to earn CEUs in many topics and formats —some states even provide credit if you publish an article on nursing. While ecourses may seem like they fulfill continuing education for nurses, that may not be the case. Additionally you must take courses from an accredited association or school for it to count.
Basic and advanced life support certification
As a part of their early training, nurses need to pass basic life support certification which includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation and advanced cardiac life support certification. These certifications are required for licensure, but they generally do not count toward CEUs needed to renew your license.
Nurses can learn a lot from professional development courses that teach them about retirement, resume writing for nurses, and interview preparation. However, these courses do not satisfy requirements for nursing CEs.
Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses
To maintain their license, physicians and other medical professionals must take CME courses to continue to develop their knowledge and skills. Nurses, however, usually cannot take CME courses for license renewal —although specific requirements vary by state.
Employer workshops on workplace policies and procedures
Nurses complete various workshops and courses for their employers, including orientation and safety courses. However, state nursing boards do not accept these for CEU requirements. Boards may honor continuing education courses offered through an employer if they have credit-hour designations and offer a certificate of completion.
Non-nursing college courses
You cannot take postsecondary courses in a non-nursing topic such as general education requirements and expect it to count toward your license renewal for your state nursing board.
Professional nursing meetings and conventions
Nursing organizations sponsor conventions and meetings, but nurses cannot get CEU credit for attendance. That said, accredited seminars and workshops from professional organizations may qualify for CEU credit.
What Does Count as Nursing CEU Courses?
Regional nursing boards set criteria for CEU requirements, so be sure to check with your state. Generally qualified continuing education for nurses must be accredited by a professional nursing organization or college. Nurses can find free and paid CEU courses. In many cases, employers reimburse nurses for their CEU courses.
State-approved courses offered by nursing organizations
CEU courses must be accredited by professional nursing organizations, government agencies, or schools. The ANCC offers approved continuing education programs, including free webinars and recognized certifications. Each activity has a different CE credit value.
Academic peer-reviewed article and supplemental exam
Depending on the state, nurses can earn CEUs for reading journal articles that discuss nursing and by taking an accompanying exam.
Taking specialty nursing credentialed exams
Your state board may recognize specialty certifications or recertifications, such as credentials to become a nurse midwife or nurse anesthesiologist.
Publishing an article or chapter related to nursing
If nurses publish an article or chapter in a nursing-related publication, they can receive CEUs, depending on state board rules.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing CEUs
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 misuse, 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?
Yes, nurses often pay for CE courses, but they can also score free CEUs. You can stay current in your clinical practice through the AACN's no cost continuing education activities, although nurses may need an active membership for free access. The International Center for Regulatory Scholarship also offers paid and free CEs. For instance, you can complete a COVID-19 series for free, but pay for a course on medication errors. Often, paid continuing education for nurses offers more credits than free programs.
You can write off CE courses if you need them to keep your job or renew your nursing license. It could qualify as a lifetime learning credit.
Page last reviewed January 12, 2023
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