Continuing Education for Nurses: Requirements, Course Types & Where to Find Classes
Contact Hours and Continuing Education Units (CEUs)
As a registered nurse (RN), a licensed practical nurse (LPN), or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), you’re often required to complete a certain number of continuing education courses to keep your license current. Though not all states have these requirements, continuing education might be expected by your employer or in order to maintain a specialty certification.
What’s more, continuing education helps you stay abreast of changes in this rapidly growing field, provide the best possible care to your patients, and advance your career while increasing your earning potential.
But where will you find the time? The good news is that there are plenty of continuing education courses available in a variety of convenient formats, from online classes and webinars to nursing conferences and workshops. Some are even free, or your employer might offer to reimburse you. Read on to learn about the possible requirements for continuing education, the types of courses available, and where to find eligible classes that fit your needs and goals.
What Is Continuing Education for Nurses?
The term continuing education (CE) is used to broadly describe programs designed for adult learners who are looking for personal or professional growth. You might hear this phrase used to refer to advanced degree options, but for healthcare professionals, the term often relates to the ongoing education that’s required for maintaining your state license.
You’re also likely to come across the acronym CEU, which stands for continuing education unit. A single CEU is equal to 10 contact hours, each of which is 50–60 minutes of broad-approved instruction, depending on your state. You might see the requirements for continuing education listed as a total number of contact hours or as CEUs.
Why Is Continuing Education Important?
The field of nursing is constantly evolving, with new technology, treatment options, and protocols. Continuing education courses can help you stay current on the latest best practices and become more knowledgeable about a particular area of interest.
In addition, continuing education is often a requirement if you want to maintain your state license or a specialty certification through a nursing association. Your license is required for you to legally practice as a nurse, while certifications can help demonstrate advanced qualifications to employers, patients, and families
As a condition of state licensure, nurses often have to complete continuing education courses within a specific period of time, usually every 2–3 years. You may need to dedicate a certain amount of contact hours to topics required by your state, while the remaining hours can be focused on topics of your choice so long as they apply to nursing.
For example, Florida RNs are required to complete 24 contact hours every 2 years and use 1 hour specifically in training on HIV/AIDS. In contrast, Michigan requires RNs to complete 25 contact hours every 2 years with 1 hour on pain and symptom management.
Along with having different requirements for the same roles, the states also vary widely on how they handle continuing education based on
In some states, LPNs, RNs, and APRNs might need to complete the same amount of CE, while in others, there’s a designated amount for each position.
For instance, LPNs and RNs in Illinois are required to complete 20 contact hours every 2 years, while nurse practitioners must complete 50. It’s important to check with your state board of nursing to learn more about mandatory continuing education.
But continuing education isn’t just a box you need to check in order to maintain your license. It’s also a chance to become a better nurse, gain experience in a specialized area, and strengthen your potential job prospects in the future.
With continuing education, you can earn a specialty certification in an area that can position you for advancement, while increasing your knowledge and confidence. Many healthcare organizations and Magnet-recognized hospitals prefer to hire certified nurses to better market their services and boost the facility’s perception in the eyes of the public. You might choose to become certified in specialty areas such as:
· Critical care
· Ambulatory care
· Cardiac vascular nursing
· Pain management
· Psychiatric mental health
Because the field of nursing is constantly changing, continuing education is necessary for maintaining these certifications, and there’s a relatively high bar for the amount that’s required. As a result, those who maintain these credentials are often viewed as the most motivated and dedicated professionals in the field who stay up to date on the latest research and trends.
What Kind of Courses Can I Take?
The kind of courses you’ll take will depend on the requirements you need to meet, though there’s a seemingly endless list of options. You’ll likely be required to complete specific courses depending on your state, while you’ll have the option to choose other courses for yourself.
To give you an idea of the range available, here are just a few examples of continuing education courses you could take:
- Acute and chronic pain assessment and management: Covers the latest research and techniques for treating different types of pain and addiction issues, including common myths
- Acute pancreatitis: Outlines important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this difficult-to-diagnose condition and compares the different treatment options that are now available
- Bipolar disorder: Teaches nurses how to recognizes the signs of bipolar disorder, a lifelong brain disease which often goes undiagnosed and untreated
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Explains the best practices for diagnosing, treating, and managing IBD, a debilitating and sometimes deadly disease affecting 1.8 million adults in the U.S
- Forensic evidence collection for nurses: Trains nurses to provide healthcare to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse and gather the documentation needed to prosecute offenders
- HIV Case Studies: Compares and contrasts the various stages of HIV, identifies treatment options, and explains common complications
In addition to courses that fulfill your CE requirements, you‘ll likely need to complete training in basic life support, CPR, and advanced cardiac life support in order to maintain your license. However, keep in mind that these certifications typically don’t count toward your CEUs.
Other activities that aren’t eligible include on-the-job training, employer orientations, and job presentations. You might be allowed to take classes designed for other healthcare professionals if it applies to your nursing practice, but courses in general education or liberal arts won’t apply.
Where to Find Eligible CE Courses
Once you’ve identified the specific requirements you need to fulfill, you can start browsing different types of continuing education activities.
You can find courses both online and in a traditional classroom setting, as well as events like conferences, workshops, and seminars.
No matter what kind of activity you choose, it must be approved by your state board of nursing. A good place to start is by searching through any of the national nursing organizations that offer these types of activities. These include:
- The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
- The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA)
- The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN)
- The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM)
- The National Association of Nursing Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
- The National League for Nursing (NLN)
All of these organizations should offer a range of continuing education options that’ll be approved by your state board.
Do I Need to Report My CE Courses?
You don’t typically need to send records to your state board of nursing as you complete your continuing education, but you’ll need to report your activities when you apply to renew your license. You’ll also need to present proof of your CE if you get audited, which is why it’s a good idea to keep digital records of course completion and certificates of attendance for at least 2 full renewal periods. Your state might have specific record-keeping requirements, so it’s best to check with your board to ensure you’re following the guidelines.
Interested to learn more about the kinds of nursing roles available and how specializing can help you advance in the field? Our nursing specializations page outlines the various ways you can tailor your career to meet your individual goals and needs.