When most people talk about CE (continuing education) courses, they’re referring to classes or certifications that are taken on voluntarily. Some professionals take CE courses to keep their heads in the game, while others do it to look more eligible for a promotion. If you’re talking about continuing education for nurses, though, it’s a slightly different story. Continuing Education Units, or CEUs, are mandated for nurses in most states; they’re meant to sharpen the nurses’ knowledge of their craft, and they’re also required in order to keep nurses’ licenses current. Instead of choosing courses solely on the basis of what seems relevant, nurses have to pick from a list of accredited courses.
There are quite a few more requirements, but those are the main differences between continuing education in general, and CEUs for nurses. Understanding CEU requirements can be tricky the first time around, not only because there’s a lot to learn about them, but also because they vary by state. Some nurses do all the leg-work themselves, while others use services like Nursing CE Central to help them fulfill CEU requirements. If you just want to get the bird’s-eye view, though, keep reading – there’s plenty of helpful information below.
It’s important to keep accurate records
The reasoning here is much the same as why you should keep tax records. You’ll probably never have to pull them out, but if you do need them, it’s essential that everything is in order. The information you should keep track of includes the title of the course, name of the provider, course identification number, date of completion, and number of CEUs awarded. If you don’t want to keep hard copies, it’s recommended to scan them and keep all your copies in a well-organized folder.
Courses can only be taken from approved CEU providers
In each state that mandates CEUs for nurses, there are two authorities that can approve CEU providers: the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center), and the state’s BON (Board of Nursing). This is important for two reasons. First, since each state’s BON approves their own list of providers, each state will have a slightly different list. Second, if a nurse takes a continuing education course that hasn’t been approved, it won’t count towards their CEU requirements.
Just because a course is related to the field of nursing doesn’t mean it’s a CEU
There are plenty of courses that seem like they should be CEUs, but simply aren’t. For example, taking advanced life support classes or attending a nursing-related seminar may add to a nurse’s overall knowledge, but they won’t be recognized as CEUs by the state BON. This isn’t to say that all hands-on training courses or conferences can’t be accredited. Some of them are; it’s just that you have to check beforehand to avoid confusion.
CEU courses can have many different formats
Just because they’re called “courses” doesn’t mean you’ll be spending hours poring over reading materials or taking tests. Here are some examples of CEU courses that take less traditional format:
- Getting published in a peer-reviewed journal
- Developing the curriculum for a nursing-related class
- Teaching a nursing-related class
- Attending an accredited workshop
- Attending an accredited seminar or conference
- Enrolling in online courses that primarily teach through reading materials, webinars, or videos
Some of these types of courses are only accredited in specific states, so you may have to request clarification from the state BON.
If you have a multistate nursing license, CEU requirements will be determined according to your home state
Most states in the US allow registered nurses to practice in multiple states without having to earn additional licenses (this only applies to RN compact states). This allowance makes it easier for nurses to be mobile and work where they’re most needed, but it can also complicate their understanding of CEU requirements. What if a nurse is working in a state with no CEU requirements, but their home state does have those requirements? In that case, the nurse would still have to complete CEUs, even if they’ve been working in another state for years.
Some states don’t have CEU requirements
If you’re a nurse practicing in one of the following states, you won’t be required to take CEUs:
- South Dakota
Even if you aren’t strictly required to take CEUs, though, you can still complete them for your own benefit. Continuing education helps nurses stay current on healthcare advancements and recent medical research, and it can even boost a nurse’s career.
CEUs have to be completed before the license renewal period ends
Even though there are many practical benefits to taking CEUs, one of the main purposes is to prevent your nursing license from expiring. Without fulfilling CEU requirements for your state, there could be several consequences. These include losing a job, having your license suspended, or even having to re-take the nurse’s exam as if you’re earning your license for the first time.
Keep in mind that each state sets its own license renewal period. For many of them the interval is two years, but there’s a lot of variation. There are also differing numbers of CEUs required by each state, so that’s another thing to check on before finalizing your studies.
The difference between CEUs and contact hours
These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but this isn’t accurate. If you look at CEU requirements by state, they’ll typically be written as contact hours rather than continuing education units. The ANCC also adopts the same format, but some CEU course providers measure according to CEUs rather than contact hours. With the two terms being used so often, it’s important to know the difference – 10 contact hours equals one CEU.
There are plenty of ins and outs when it comes to taking CEU courses, but the steepest part of the learning curve is at the very beginning. Once you’ve gotten better acquainted with how they work you’ll be able to focus on the courses themselves, rather than all the associated regulations.