A group of nurses in a continuing education class to accompany an article about continuing education for nurses

A Nurse’s Guide to Continuing Education

Like any health care profession, nursing is a highly skilled job. Nurses use in-depth medical knowledge to treat patients of every age, background, and medical history. 

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that registered nurses are required to have a higher education degree and undergo special training, like academic coursework and clinical placements. However, a nurse’s education doesn’t end once you enter the workforce.

Every few years, RNs, LPNs, and other nursing professionals are faced with license renewals, and that often includes continuing education requirements. These requirements help keep nurses current on research, best practices, and ongoing or new issues in the health care field.

Whether you’re new to nursing or an experienced professional, it’s important to keep up with your continuing education requirements. If you’re just looking into continuing education for the first time or wondering if you’re doing it right, read on for a brief review of continuing education for nurses.

The Purpose of Continuing Education for Nurses

The primary purpose of continuing education is to keep nursing professionals compliant with licensure requirements. Every state has different requirements for license renewal, but most require some amount of continuing education credit. You also might find that some health care organizations require staff to record continuing education credits every fiscal year.

If you don’t meet continuing education requirements, you might lose bonuses, your job, or even your license. If you do lose your license from lack of renewal, you’ll likely need to resubmit documentation and present your case to your state nursing board. In some cases, you might even need to retake the licensing examination.

In addition to the practical benefit of maintaining a nursing license and career, continuing education also offers nurses several other advantages:

  • It helps you stay up-to-date on evidence-based practice and health care developments. This not only allows you to provide the safest and highest quality patient care possible, but it also reduces potential treatment errors and subsequent legal risks.
  • It can improve your chance for a promotion or an advanced position. You may seek advanced certification or coursework, whether it’s in a specialty nursing track or a specific skill set (like education or management), to further your career opportunities. Hiring teams often favor candidates with these qualifications and may even require them.
  • It contributes to your professional and personal satisfaction and instills confidence and passion for your work. You can explore new areas of interest, delve deep into your preferred specialty, or find solutions to any professional questions or issues they have come across.

Continuing education is not just a licensure or job requirement. It’s an opportunity for you to become the best professional you can be and give the best possible care to patients and their families.

Requirements of Continuing Education

While exact continuing education requirements vary by location, most states require nurses to complete at least some form of continuing education every two to three years. Even in states that don’t require a certain number of continuing education credits, nurses may need to complete continuing education courses for job-specific or specialty certifications. You can find nursing CE requirements by state here.

It’s also helpful to know a few acronyms that come up often in discussions about continuing education for nursing professionals:

  • CE: Continuing education. Most licensed professions, including health care workers, have CE requirements.
  • CNE: Continuing nursing education. CNE courses are specifically designed for nursing professionals.
  • CEUs: Continuing education units (also known as continuing education credits). CEUs refer to the hours of instruction or “contact hours” per educational course or approved activity. 
  • BRN: Often, the acronym BRN will appear to indicate that it is an approved “Board of Registered Nursing” CE provider. 

A nurse’s CEUs must be earned within a specific renewal period, ranging from annual to triennial, depending on the state. These don’t roll over from year to year, although some states allow a limited number of excess credits to be counted toward the next renewal period. 

Certain states also require a particular portion of CE hours to be devoted to specific topics. For example, nurses in Michigan must complete at least one hour of pain management education.

Nurses who are certified through a professional association may have additional continuing education requirements that are separate from the state board’s requirements. If this applies to you, contact your professional association for the most up-to-date information on CE requirements.

Completing Your Continuing Education as a Nurse

As a nursing professional, you may often work long or erratic hours and may be worried that you won’t be able to find time for continuing education. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for nursing professionals looking to complete their CE requirements.

  • Academic sources. You can choose from a variety of college courses, journal articles, professional seminars, live and on-demand webinars, conferences, and workshops that suit your schedule and interests. Nurses can also obtain CEUs for teaching or developing a curriculum for new courses or seminars, engaging in certain research activities, or publishing their work in a peer-reviewed journal. When in doubt, check with your state board of nursing to determine whether or not your activity will count toward your CE requirements.
  • Through your employer. Some employers will even pay for their nurses to attend professional development courses or may even host them in-house. This is more commonly seen in larger health care organizations and with nursing professionals who are part of a union.
  • CE courses. For nurses whose employers don’t pay or reimburse for continuing education, CEUs can be completed for a relatively low cost. Some courses are free while others require a minimal fee. Certain providers even allow nurses to pay a flat fee to take as many CE courses as they want. In some cases, CEU costs can be included as a tax write-off.

Once a nurse completes a CE course, providers will issue a certificate of attendance. Make sure you keep any paperwork or digital copies of your CE completion records for a few years, in the event that your credentials are audited or called into question.

By keeping current with continuing education, you’re not only keeping yourself in compliance with licensure requirements, but you’re also building your knowledge base and empowering yourself to provide the best possible patient care.

Are you looking for more career development information? Visit Clipboard Academy for educational resources and tools that will help you grow your nursing career.