Continuing Education Requirements for RNs

two nurses walking to class
nurses walking together talking

Registered nurses (RNs) aren’t done learning once they’re licensed. In fact, many nurses anticipate that the job requires consistent continued education.

RNs are required to take a minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs) each year to maintain their license. However, many nurses take even more classes to fine-tune their skills and provide the best possible care. Additionally, nurses use their continued education to boost their career path. Continued education in nursing is crucial in order to advance your career and potentially  increase your earning potential.

Patients depend on RNs to be informed, and continuing education “is designed to keep nurses up to date in their practice and abreast of current trends and guidelines,” said Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC, and author, columnist for the nursing news site allnurses, Nursing Career, Support, Stories , founder of Home New – Nurse Code , and a staff development professional specialist. “For nurses, continuing education is a lifestyle.”

Patients count on nurses to be informed, and continuing education can help you stay current on the latest trends and guidelines.

What are CEUs?

Continuing education units (CEUs), commonly referred to as continuing education credits, are essentially the classes or activities that augment and build upon the education a nurse has already received. Many nurses pursue continued education to further their career or earn specialized licenses and certifications. Other nurses take CEUs to maintain licensure within their state. Generally, one CEU takes 10 hours to complete—those 10 hours could be completed in a classroom or performing an approved activity.

Each state has different nursing laws and guidelines that require a set number of hours completed in continued education. For example, most Texas nurses must complete 20 contact hours of continued education to renew their license every two years. Meaning, Texas nurses generally must take the equivalent of two continued education units every two years. In most cases, 10 contact hours of education is equivalent to one CEU. However, some states require the completion of 30 or more contact hours (three or more CEUs) to maintain a nursing license. As such, it is essential to research the requirements in your state to earn and maintain your nursing credentials.

Additionally, continuing education can be crucial for many nurses seeking the best job opportunities. Taking the appropriate CEUs can elevate a nurse’s career in multiple ways while also helping them identify the specific nursing field that best fits their skillset.

Nursing Continuing Education Credits and Contact Hours Explained

What exactly are continuing education credits and hours? Depending on your state, you might see requirements for continuing education listed either as contact hours or as continuing education units (CEUs). A single CEU is equal to 10 contact hours, each of which is 50 to 60 minutes of approved activity, didactic or clinical. Most states require 20 to 45 contact hours in continuing education for license renewal (approximately two to four CEUs), but be sure to check your state’s requirements to fully understand what’s expected of you.

How Can Continuing Education Help Me?

nurses in class

Continuing education not only offers the benefits of broadening your medical knowledge, it also opens up further job opportunities and may substantially boost your potential salary. Many nurses become avid lifelong learners—swapping textbooks for nursing journals and sharpening their skills with continuing education.

There are paths for those with applicable experience to become nurses, whether it’s through an lpn-to-rn bridge program or for paramedics who want to become nurses. 

Beyond licensing requirements, continuing education is professional development intended to help you become the best nurse you can be—whether you’re just starting out or are a highly experienced nurse in a leadership position, according to the American Nurses Association.

According to Jessica Dzubak, MSN, RN, and director of nursing practice at the Ohio Nurses Association, new nurses use continuing education to fill knowledge gaps.

“Finding an accredited provider that offers a wide variety of courses on different topics, such as clinical safety, communication, and nursing law, will be especially beneficial for new nurses,” Dzubak said. “Often, professional nursing associations offer these types of courses to support nursing development, and some have dedicated resources specifically for new nurses.”

For established nurses who want to move into leadership roles, Dzubak suggests they “consider what areas they would like to improve upon—whether it be communication, fiscal responsibility, human resources management, or leadership theories and styles—and then find accredited courses that meet their individual learning needs.”

New nurses can use continuing education courses to help fill knowledge gaps.

Which Courses Do I Need?

Due to the fact that many nurses have differing priorities and skillsets, there are myriad CEU’s pertaining to different nursing specialities.

You can complete courses in a variety of formats, from online classes, webinars and correspondence courses to traditional classroom instruction, nursing conferences and clinical workshops.

The classes you take will depend on requirements for renewing your license, your personal interests and your specialty certifications. Some states require continuing education in specific areas such as human trafficking, opioid addiction, domestic violence and bioterrorism.

Requirements for continuing education vary by state, so check with your state nursing board before you sign up for a course. 

Nursing Continuing Education at a Glance


Required or Optional

RN License and Renewal

  • You choose courses and providers
  • Must improve your nursing practice and fulfill a specified number of hours and/or credits


Courses must be accredited and approved by your state nursing board

State-Mandated Education

  • Specific topics required by the state; examples: human trafficking, domestic violence, opioid addiction
  • You choose the provider


Courses must be accredited and approved by your state nursing board

Specialty Certification and Renewal

  • You choose courses and providers
  • Must focus on a nursing specialty
  • Must meet requirements established by the certification body


Courses must be accredited and approved by your state nursing board

Personal Interest

  • You choose courses and providers; topic examples: yoga, weight loss, liberal arts
  • No restrictions
  • May not be used for licensing or specialty certification unless course complies


Nursing board approval not required

What Kind of Classes Can I Take?

There’s an amazing range of courses, offered by many accredited providers, that you can take. According to Dzubak, nurses tend to pursue continuing education in these areas: 

  • Nursing laws and guidelines, which can vary by state
  • Clinical topics
  • Interpersonal skills, including conflict management, communication tips, and leadership
  • Advocacy
  • Pharmacology

With continuing education, you can earn specialty certifications in areas that position you for advancement while increasing your knowledge and confidence in your field of interest. Many healthcare organizations prefer to hire certified nurses and routinely specify a desire for candidates certified in the following areas:

Because the field of nursing is constantly changing, a significant amount of continuing education is necessary to earn and maintain certifications. As a result, nurses with credentials are often viewed as the most motivated and dedicated professionals in their field.

To give you an idea of the range of available continuing education courses, here are just a few examples of courses you could take:

  • Acute and Chronic Pain Assessment and Management covers the latest research and treatment for different types of pain and addiction issues.
  • Human Trafficking and Exploitation provides an overview of human trafficking for those who may intervene in suspected cases of human trafficking and/or exploitation 
  • Acute Pancreatitis outlines important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this difficult-to-diagnose condition and compares treatment options.
  • Service Animals in Health Care Facilities identifies the role of care providers in advocating for individuals with service animals in a medical setting.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) explains best practices for diagnosing, treating, and managing IBD, a debilitating and sometimes deadly disease.
  • Legal Implications for Nursing Practice increases awareness of potential legal issues and how to use best practices to prevent them.
  • Forensic Evidence Collection for Nurses trains nurses to provide care to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse and gather the evidence necessary for prosecution.
  • HIV Case Studies examines the stages of HIV, identifies treatment options, and explains common complications.

What Kind of Classes Don’t Count as Continuing Ed?

You’ll likely need to complete training in basic life support, CPR, and advanced cardiac life support to obtain and maintain your RN license. However, these certifications typically don’t count toward continuing education requirements.

Other activities that aren’t eligible include on-the-job training and employer orientations or presentations. However, if you’re enrolled in a nursing degree program, your coursework may meet your initial continuing education requirements.

What Do Continuing Education Classes Cost?

women nurses talk to nurse educator during class

Course costs vary widely—some are free, while others cost $150 or more. It depends on the course, how it’s delivered, the location, the contact hours or CEUs and the content. Some employers pay for continuing education or subsidize the cost for selected classes to help you gain valuable expertise in specialty fields.

Another potential bonus:  Some continuing education providers will give you unlimited access to courses for a monthly or annual subscription fee. And because it’s considered professional development, your costs for continuing education may be tax deductible.

Where Can I Find Courses?

When looking for courses, a good place to start is by visiting the websites of national nursing organizations that offer continuing education for certain specialties:

Advanced practice nurses can find continuing education courses here:

These organizations offer a range of continuing education options approved by your state nursing boards. Additionally, most states have nursing associations that offer some continuing education classes, many without charge.

Look for Accredited Courses

No matter what kind of activity you choose, Hawkes said to make sure courses are approved by your state board of nursing or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is recognized by the nursing boards in all states. Be sure to confirm that both the provider and the courses are accredited.

“The level of quality among continuing education options varies,” Dzubak said. “Accreditation ensures the education has met a rigorous set of quality standards and that the information is reputable and free of commercial influence.”

I’ve Completed My Courses—Now What?

First you celebrate—it takes time and work to complete continuing education requirements for licensure, certification and career development. It is important to then educate yourself on which classes may be needed in the future as well. Some state laws require nurses to re-take certain courses to maintain their accreditation.

Now, get your paperwork in order. Keeping an electric record of your courses can ease future headaches within your continued nurses education.

Create an Electronic Record of Your Continuing Education and Credentials

You’ll need this for a possible audit by your state board of nursing or to show employers. Gather and store the following information on your computer:

  • Course names and descriptions
  • The course provider
  • Completion dates
  • Contact hours or CEUs
  • Credential earned

As a safeguard, print a copy of your records or back up your files so you don’t lose your documentation in a computer meltdown. 

You don’t typically need to send these records to your state board, but you need to report your activities when you apply to renew your license. If your state board does do an audit, you need to present your record of continuing education at that time.

Safeguard your continuing education records by printing a copy or backing up your computer files.

In general, you should keep your records for at least two to three license renewal periods. Your state might have specific recordkeeping requirements, so it’s best to check with your board of nursing to make sure you’re following the proper guidelines.

For example, the California Board of Registered Nursing website says that random audits of registered nurses are conducted regularly to verify continuing education compliance, and RNs are required to keep certificates or grade slips for four years as proof of compliance.

sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

jessica dzubak

Jessica Dzubak, MSN, RN

Director of Nursing Practice, Ohio Nurses Association

beth hawkes

Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC

Nursing Professional Development Specialist