Continuing education requirements for nurses are set by the State Board of Nursing (RN and LPN/LVN Boards) to ensure a high standard of quality patient care in each state. The requirements vary from state to state and it is the nurse’s responsibility to keep track of the requirements of the state where s/he is licensed and practices nursing. For nurses who practice under the Nursing Compact Licensure it is imperative to know the rules governing the states involved in that nurse’s practice and residence. These rules can change and it’s the nurse’s responsibility to know the current rules.
Currently 39 states and all U.S. territories and Washington DC require some level of continuing education for license renewal. The requirements vary by state and territory as do the licensure periods.
Be Sure it’s Accredited Before Taking a CEU Course
Each state’s Board of Nursing defines what courses are acceptable for continuing education and what accreditation requirements must be met by approved CEU providers in that state. Just because a course is accredited does not mean every state accepts the course to fulfill CEU requirements. Always check with the vendor to ensure the course has been accredited and then check with the State Board of Nursing to ensure it will be accepted for credit before taking any courses.
Also note that a course may be accepted for LPN/LVNs that is not accepted for RNs so again you need to check before taking that course.
That’s not to say don’t take a course that isn’t accredited for CEUs or don’t take it because your state doesn’t accept it. If it’s something that will improve or enhance your knowledge or skills as a nurse, by all means take the class. Just understand you won’t be able to use that course to fulfill CEU requirements. If you’ve procrastinated taking your CEUs, you may need to prioritize getting the CEUs and taking other courses later.
Examples of Courses That Don’t Count for CEUs
- Perhaps the most misunderstood option for CEUs is CPR and advanced lifesaving courses such Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Life Support (PALS) and Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). Basic CPR for healthcare professionals does not count for continuing education credit even if the provider issues certificates.This is a basic requirement for all healthcare professionals and is not considered continuing education regardless of the fact that procedures have changed significantly over the past few decades.
Advanced lifesaving courses such as ACLS, PALS and NRP are accepted by most states for the initial course and certification, but only a very few states such as Texas accept renewal courses for continuing education credit. Always check with your State BON. Vendors will issue often certificates that can be used if the BON accepts them, but this is not a guarantee that they will be counted. It can be confusing to students who think they will receive credit.
- Courses accredited for Category I CMEs (Continuing Medical Education) which are usually designed for healthcare professionals such as physicians or dentists are not often accepted for any nursing CEU credit. In California, some CME courses are accepted, but again you need to check with the BON. In other states the credits may count for Advanced Practice RNs (APRN). The course may be of interest or very important for your career path, just understand it probably won’t count for nursing CEUs. What can be confusing is that sometimes a course is accredited for both CME and nursing CEUs.
- College courses that are not specifically designed for nurses don’t count. This includes prerequisite courses (such as specific sciences, math, statistics or general education requirements) for BSN, MSN and DNP programs. College courses in nursing will usually count for continuing education credits and the hours are collected as such: 10 contract hours = 1 academic quarter unit; 15 contact hours = 1 academic semester unit. For example, a 3 quarter unit course will earn 30 contact hours (3 CEUs) or a 3 semester unit course will earn 45 contact hours (4.5 CEUs). Remember 1 CEU = 10 contact hours.
- On-the-job training, nurse internship and residency programs, orientation and refresher courses do not count for continuing education units. Nor do in-service programs that provide information about work-specific policies and procedures or philosophy.
- Any educational activity taken for CEU credit cannot be repeated for credit in a single reporting/license renewal period. The course may be called something similar but the content and learning objectives must be significantly different for it to count.
- Attending professional meeting, trade shows or conventions does not count towards CEUs. However, accredited seminars or other approved activities may be offered during the convention.
- Other courses such as those for self-improvement/self-awareness, financial gain, job-search activities, liberal arts or other lay person topics are not considered appropriate for CEU credits.
Remember, continuing education for nurses is supposed to augment the knowledge and skills beyond the basic nursing education. It should provide learning opportunities in specialty areas of nursing, advanced clinical and technical procedures and theories, significant changes/updates in the practice of patient care and education. It should help a nurse grow professionally either into supervision and management or improved bedside or community health care delivery. Other areas of continuing education provide updates and insights into issues such as social, ethical and legal situations that affect patient care and outcomes.
Continuing education is designed to enhance the skills and practice of nurses, help them stay on the cutting edge of technology and health care delivery, and thrive as healthcare professionals.