The Ultimate Nursing Continuing Education Guide

If you’re a registered nurse, chances are you’ve spent an incredible amount of time, money, and effort on your education.  Now it’s time to renew your license and you are back in the classroom: hence Nursing CEUs! Nursing is a career full of lifelong learning whether it’s on the job, professional development, or nursing continuing education (CE). Whether you’re a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, or a nurse practitioner, you most likely have nursing CEU requirements that are set forth by the board of nursing in the state where you are licensed. In addition, if you’re certified in your specialty (critical care nursing, emergency nursing, oncology, etc.), you will most likely have nursing CE requirements to maintain a current certification status. Furthermore, many employers have their own continuing education requirements that may be more than what your state board of nursing requires.

Nursing CEU requirements may sometimes seem like a hassle, but they are incredibly important to your nursing practice. Meeting these requirements on an annual or bi-annual basis ensures that you are staying up to date on the latest evidence-based nursing practices. The world of healthcare is fast-paced and ever-changing, and nurses have a responsibility to keep up with those changes to ensure quality care delivery to their patients.

What is Nursing Continuing Education?

Nursing CEUs AKA continuing education is any professional activity, course, or program that is designed to provide a healthcare provider with updated knowledge and skills that can be transferred into their everyday practice, ensuring optimal patient care. Nursing CE is known by many different monikers, and they are often used interchangeably. Let’s take a look at the different ways nursing CE can be referred to below:

Nursing CE

CE stands for continuing education. This is a general term that refers to the continuing professional education that is required for most licensed healthcare workers.

Nursing CEU

Nursing CE is sometimes measured in continuing education units, or CEUs. CEUs are a measure of participation in continuing education activities or courses. One CEU is equivalent to 10 hours (or “contact hours”) spent in an educational activity or program.

CME

Continuing medical education (CME) is granted to physicians and advanced practice nursing providers after participation in an accredited continuing education activity. Often, CMEs can be converted into nursing CEUs, but it’s always best to ask if you can get credit before committing to an activity that only provides CME.

Contact Hours

Contact hours are the actual amount of time spent in a course or approved activity.

CNE

This stands for continuing nursing education and refers to nursing-specific courses or activities.

Nursing CEU are available in online or in-person formats, with online being one of the most popular. Gone are the days of having to attend lectures or classes to meet your requirements – now you can do these in the comfort of your own home! In addition to the convenience of online courses, they also tend to be more cost-effective, making them an attractive option for most nurses.

How Do Nurses Obtain Nursing Continuing Education?

There are a range of different options when it comes to choosing the format for your nursing CEs. So, how do you know which one is right for you? The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a CE course or activity is whether it is an accredited activity or program. When you find one you’d like to do, make sure it has been approved by one of the following organizations:

  • Any organization, course, program, or educational institution that has been accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC is the gold standard for all nursing CEUs and their courses are recognized by all state nursing boards.
  • Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN)
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
  • American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA)
  • American Heart Association (AHA)
  • American Nurses Association (ANA)
  • Association of Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurses (APHON)
  • Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN)
  • European Oncology Nursing Society
  • International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET)
  • Korean Oncology Nursing Society
  • National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN)
  • National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates and Practitioners (NAPNAP)
  • National League for Nursing (NLN)
  • Oncology Nursing Society
  • Royal College of Nursing

If you are participating in an activity that provides continuing medical education (CME) credits, be sure it has been accredited by one of the following organizations:

  • Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • American Medical Association (AMA)
  • American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
  • Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
  • State Medical Societies

This is not an all-inclusive list of every accredited provider of nursing CEUs. If you’re not sure if a program has been approved for your continuing education requirements, you can visit the Nursing Continuing Professional Development (NCPD) website, which contains a list of organizations worldwide that have been recognized by the ANCC as demonstrating excellence in nursing continuing education. You can also visit the Joint Accreditation for Inter professional Continuing Education database, which is a list of organizations that provide continuing education for a variety of professional audiences. Additionally, you can check the American Association of Colleges of Nursing or the Commission on Nurse Certification websites to find lists of nationally accredited nursing CE providers.

How Do Nursing CE Courses Become Accredited?

There are a few different ways that nursing CEU courses can become accredited, but the general process is the same across the board. An organization that wishes to provide nursing CE credits (for example, a private company, university, or professional organization) must apply for approval through an accrediting body, most likely the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC). Other accrediting bodies may be state boards of nursing. After a systematic peer review and evaluation, the course is granted accreditation and is granted “nursing CE provider” status. Once accredited, the course is accepted by all bodies and organizations that accept the organization that provided the initial accreditation.

Options for Obtaining Nursing CEUs:

Online

There are several different options for obtaining nursing CEU, but the most convenient, cost-effective method is online. Nurses are already juggling a heavy workload, long shifts, and understaffing – the last thing you’ll want to do is spend a precious day off sitting in a class. Online nursing CE activities are a great way to knock out those CE requirements from the comfort of your own home, while also saving money you’d probably be spending on supplies, books, or the commute to and from the class. You’re able to work at your own pace instead of at the pace of an instructor and can work free of distractions. Often, online nursing CE programs are much more affordable than in-person options, making this option attractive to nursing professionals whose employers provide little to no financial support for continuing education activities. If you’d like to refer back to your course materials at any point during the year, most websites will have that information readily accessible for you to review if you need a quick refresher.

There are many different website options for online nursing CEUs, so do your homework and be sure you are checking their accreditation status before committing to doing one. Also, beware of websites offering “free” contact hours for nurses – these activities or programs may not be accredited by an organization recognized by your state nursing board.

In Person

In Person: In-person options for continuing education can vary, and contact hours may be obtained by attending courses or classes that are required for you to perform essential job functions. Some examples of these activities include:

While this may seem like an easy option, some state nursing boards do not accept these courses for licensure renewal. The best way to ensure you are able to count these hours towards your requirements is to check with your state nursing board. There will be a list of approved courses on the website and it will definitively answer any questions you have about whether these courses or activities count.

The American Heart Association (AHA) offers CME and nursing CE credits for many of its course offerings, both online and in-person. Courses that offer CE/CME through the AHA include:

As with the other courses above, make sure you check with your state board of nursing to ensure these will be accepted – some states will not recognize these as continuing education for license renewal.

Nursing CEUs can also be obtained by attending professional conferences or seminars. While this is a great to network with fellow nurses and a viable option for some people, often the conference and travel fees are not covered by employers, or staffing requirements may not allow for all nurses to attend. Many healthcare organizations have free seminars or grand rounds, which usually offer CME for physicians and CEUs for nurses.

Why Are Nurses Required to Obtain Nursing Continuing Education?

Nursing CEU is required by most states’ board of nursing, although the requirements may vary from state to state. If you are certified in a specialty, like emergency nursing, critical care, neonatal intensive care, or operating room nursing, you may have additional requirements that you need to fulfill to remain in good standing. If you work in a magnet hospital or any facility with a clinical ladder, you may have nursing continuing education requirements that are necessary for career advancement and/or salary increases. These requirements allow nurses to stay up-to-date with the current medical advances and best practices, and provide for each nurse the ability to deliver optimal patient care using evidence-based nursing practice.

Who is approved to provide Nursing CEUs?

Organizations and institutions that provide nursing CEU must be accredited by an approved certifying body, and requirements can vary by state. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is universally accepted as the gold standard for nursing continuing education, and courses that have been accredited by the ANCC are accepted by all state boards of nursing. Taking an ANCC-accredited course may also boost your chances of promoting within your organization and increase your earning potential, so keep that in mind when shopping for nursing CE courses.

Most states will also accept CEUs that are provided by another state’s board of nursing. Be sure to check into a course’s accreditation status and whether it will be accepted by your state’s board of nursing before committing to and paying for it.

Nursing CEU Requirements by State

StateRequirements for RNsBON Website
Alabama24 contact hours every 2 yearsAlabama Board of Nursing
Alaska30 contact hours OR 320 hours of nursing employment OR 30 hours of professional nursing activitiesAlaska Board of Nursing
ArizonaNo nursing CE requirementsArizona Board of Nursing
Arkansas15 contact hours every 2 years OR hold a nationally recognized certification OR complete 1 credit hour course in nursing with a grade of 2.0 or aboveArkansas State Board of Nursing
California30 contact hours every 2 yearsCalifornia Board of Registered Nursing
ColoradoNo nursing CE requirementsColorado Board of Nursing
ConnecticutNo nursing CE requirementsConnecticut Nursing Licensure
District of Columbia24 contact hours every 2 yearsDistrict of Columbia Board of Nursing
Delaware30 contact hours every 2 yearsDelaware Board of Nursing
Florida24 contact hours every 2 years. MUST include: 2 hours for medical errors, 2 hours for FL state laws and rules, 1 hour of HIV/AIDS training (for first renewal only), 2 hours of domestic violence CE (every third renewal)Florida Board of Nursing
Georgia30 contact hours every 2 years OR maintenance of certification or recertification OR completion of an accredited academic program of study in nursing or a related field OR 500 nursing practice hours OR completion of an approved reentry program or graduation from a nursing education programGeorgia Board of Nursing
Hawaii

Every 2 years, options include:

30 contact hours OR national certification or recertification OR completion of a board-approved refresher course OR completion of two semester credits of post-licensure academic nursing education OR participation as a preceptor for at least one nursing student or new employee OR completion as principal investigator or co-investigator of a nursing research project OR authoring/co-authoring a peer-reviewed published nursing article, book, or book chapter OR developing and conducting a nursing education presentation totaling at least five contact hours OR completion of a board-recognized nurse residency program

Hawaii Board of Nursing
IdahoNo nursing CE requirementsIdaho Board of Nursing
Illinois20 contact hours every 2 yearsIllinois Board of Nursing
IndianaNo nursing CE requirementsIndiana State Board of Nursing
Iowa36 contact hours every 3 years, additional 2 contact hours required related to child/dependent adult abuse for nurses who regularly examine, attend, counsel or treat dependent adults or childrenIowa Board of Nursing
Kansas30 contact hours every 2 yearsKansas Board of Nursing
Kentucky14 contact hours every year, or an approved, equivalent activityKentucky Board of Nursing
Louisiana5 contact hours plus 1600 nursing practice hours every year OR 10 contact hours with 160 nursing practice hours OR 15 contact hoursLouisiana State Board of Nursing
MaineNo nursing CE requirementsMaine Board of Nursing
Maryland30 CEUs OR 1000 nursing practice hours in the past 5 years OR completion of a board-approved nursing education program within the last 5 yearsMaryland Board of Nursing
Massachusetts15 contact hours every 2 yearsMassachusetts Board of Nursing
Michigan25 contact hours every 2 years, including 1 hour of CE related to pain and symptom managementMichigan Board of Nursing
Minnesota24 contact hours every 2 yearsMinnesota Board of Nursing
MississippiNo nursing CE requirementsMississippi Board of Nursing
MissouriNo nursing CE requirementsMissouri Board of Nursing
Montana24 contact hours every 2 yearsMontana Board of Nursing
Nebraska20 contact hours every 2 years, plus 500 nursing practice hours every 5 yearsNebraska Board of Nursing
Nevada30 contact hours every 2 years, state bioterrorism course is requiredNevada State Board of Nursing
New Hampshire30 contact hours every 2 years plus 400 nursing practice hours every 4 yearsNew Hampshire Board of Nursing
New Jersey30 contact hours every 2 yearsNew Jersey Board of Nursing
New Mexico30 contact hours every 2 yearsNew Mexico Board of Nursing
New YorkFor initial licensing, 2 contact hours for child abuse; 3 contact hours for infection control every 4 yearsNew York Board of Nursing
North Carolina

Every 2 years, options include:

15 contact hours and 640 hours of active nursing practice OR national certification or re-certification OR 30 contact hours OR completion of an approved refresher course OR 2 semester hours of post-licensure academic education OR 15 contact hours plus other nursing-related activities

North Carolina Board of Nursing
North Dakota12 contact hours every 2 yearsNorth Dakota Board of Nursing
Ohio24 contact hours every 2 yearsOhio Board of Nursing
Oklahoma24 contact hours every 2 yearsOklahoma Board of Nursing
Oregon7 hours of pain-management related CE required (one-time requirement), 1 hour required to be provided by the Oregon Pain Management Commission. After this initial requirement, no nursing CE requirements.Oregon State Board of Nursing
Pennsylvania30 contact hours every 2 yearsPennsylvania State Board of Nursing
Rhode Island10 contact hours every 2 years, must include 2 hours of substance abuse CERhode Island Nursing Licensure
South Carolina30 contact hours every 2 years OR maintenance of certification by national certifying body OR completion of an academic program OR employer certificationSouth Carolina Board of Nursing
South DakotaNo nursing CE requirementsSouth Dakota Board of Nursing
Tennessee5 contact hours every year. Must also provide 2 documents verifying competence OR 10 contact hours annually for nurses not actively practicing, plus one document verifying competenceTennessee Board of Nursing
Texas20 contact hours every 2 years, with required courses in Nursing Jurisprudence, Ethics, Geriatric Care, and Forensic CollectionTexas Board of Nursing
Utah30 contact hours every 2 years OR 200 practice hours and 15 contact hours OR 400 practice hoursUtah Nursing Licensure
VermontNo nursing CE requirements, but active practice requirementVermont Nursing Licensure
Virginia15 contact hours every 2 yearsVirginia Board of Nursing
Washington45 contact hours every 3 yearsWashington Board of Nursing
West Virginia12 contact hours every year, including drug diversion training if licensee administers or dispenses controlled substances. Training also required for mental health conditions common to veterans and their family members.West Virginia Board of Nursing
WisconsinNo nursing CE requirementsWisconsin Nursing Licensure
Wyoming500 practice hours in the last 2 years OR 1600 practice hours in the last 5 years OR 20 contact hours in the last 2 years OR completion of an approved refresher course in the last 5 years OR certification in a specialty area of nursing practice in the last 5 years OR pass the NCLEX in the last 5 yearsWyoming State Board of Nursing

Free vs Paid CEUs

Nursing CEU can be broken down into two categories: free and paid. While “free” always sounds like the best option, these courses are not always the best way to get your CE. Websites that market free nursing CEU may not be accredited by the ANCC or a state nursing board-approved organization, which means they won’t count toward your annual or biannual requirements for licensure renewal. That’s not to say that all free Nursing CEU is not accredited, though! Just be sure to verify that the course or program is accredited by an approved organization so you are getting credit for your time spent.

Paid CEUs are much more reliable and are more than likely accredited by the ANCC or another approved organization. Furthermore, you get what you pay for – paid CEU courses are often of higher quality, have more features and methods of information delivery, and may be more current with evidence-based practice changes. User-friendly sites like Nursing CE Central offer a flat rate package deal, where you pay a one-time fee and are then granted access to unlimited CE courses with immediate access to your certificates. This is extremely helpful when you’re in a time crunch and need to get those contact hours ASAP.

If you are a member of a nurse union, or if you work for a larger health organization, chances are you will be reimbursed for a certain amount towards your continuing education. If you are not a member of a union or you work for a smaller health organization or practice, you will more than likely be able to write-off the cost of your continuing education on your taxes.

What CEUs should I get?

The type of nursing CEU that you need are often dependent on your state’s board of nursing. As you can see in the table above, there are a few states that have very stringent requirements for nurses in order to renew their licenses. Several states require subject-specific CE courses before becoming initially licensed, and others are required to maintain licensure. With the current opioid epidemic, you may have a requirement to obtain contact hours specific to drug diversion or opioid abuse. Other states require domestic and/or child abuse-specific training for all providers, while some states only require that training for those that treat that specific population. The bottom line is, check your state’s board of nursing website for requirements that are specific to nurses licensed in your state.

If you are certified in a specialty area of nursing, it’s important to become familiar with the requirements of the certifying body that your certification falls under. In addition to your state board’s requirements, you may have to complete specialty-specific continuing education to maintain or recertify in that specialty.

What if your state doesn’t have any nursing CEU requirements? Should you avoid doing continuing education altogether? The short answer is, NO! The purpose of nursing continuing education is to keep you current, keep your patients safe, and to ensure that you are adhering to the highest standards of nursing practice and care delivery. It is never a bad idea to choose a few CE activities in your area of practice, along with some courses from another area of nursing that you may be interested in, followed by some general nursing education courses.

Things to Remember About Nursing Continuing Education

The world of nursing continuing education can be difficult to navigate, so here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Nursing CEU requirements vary by state. As evidenced by the table above, many states have differing requirements for nursing continuing education. To be on the safe side, always check with your state board of nursing’s website to verify the continuing education requirements they have set forth.
  2. Your state may not require any Nursing CEU. There are currently 11 states that do not require nursing CE: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. This absolutely does not mean that you shouldn’t do nursing CEUs, it just means that you don’t have to have completed them in order to renew your nursing license.
  3. The time period during which you complete CE matters. In order for you to use your contact hours to get credit for license renewal, the CEUs must have been completed before your license expires. This is another great reason to utilize a website like Nursing CE Central – your certificates are immediately available and the information you view will be readily accessible to you throughout the year. Another important thing to remember: Any contact hours above the minimum requirement cannot be rolled over for the next year. If you do extra CEUs, good for you! You’ll be that much more prepared to deliver quality care to your patients.
  4. You may need to complete contact hours in a certain subject, if required by your state board of nursing. There are a few states that require continuing education in a specific subject matter. Remember, check your state’s board of nursing website regularly as nursing continuing education requirements may change on a yearly basis. Here are the states that currently have subject-specific requirements:
    • Florida – 2 hours for medical errors, 2 hours for Florida state laws and rules, 1 hour of HIV/AIDS training (for the first renewal only), and 2 hours of domestic violence CE (every third renewal).
    • Iowa – 2 hours related to child/dependent adult abuse for nurses who regularly examine, attend, counsel, or treat dependent adults or children.
    • Michigan – 1 hour of CE related to symptom and pain management.
    • Nevada – State requires their bioterrorism course be completed.
    • New York – 2 hours related to child abuse prior to initial licensing, 3 contact hours for infection control every 4 years.
    • Oregon – 7 hours of pain management-related CE (one-time requirement), 1 hour to be provided by the Oregon Pain Management Commission.
    • Texas – Required CE in nursing jurisprudence, ethics, geriatric care, and forensic collection.
    • West Virginia – Drug diversion training required if a nurse administers or dispenses controlled substances. CE related to mental health conditions in the veteran population and their families is also required.
  5. If you’re practicing in a compact state, you must meet the requirements of the state where you are licensed. There are currently 34 states participating in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which is an agreement that is renewed on a yearly basis. If you are licensed in one of these states, it means that you are able to be licensed in one state, but practice in any state that is a member of the NLC without having to get another license in that state.
  6. If one state recognizes a Nursing CEU course as acceptable for credit, another state may not. This is a tricky situation. For example, one state may recognize an Advanced Cardiac Life Support Provider initial certification, yet another state may not accept the same course. Be sure to check your state board of nursing’s website for a list of approved CE courses before counting them towards your annual or bi-annual requirements.
  7. Employer-specific training may not qualify for nursing CEUs. Most hospitals and healthcare organizations require their nurses to complete a general hospital orientation program at the start of employment, as well as a unit-specific orientation period. During the unit-specific period, you may have to attend and complete training courses that are specific to your area of nursing. Unfortunately, most states do not recognize these training and orientation periods as nursing CEUs, and most do not offer CME/CEUs at completion. On the job training and your orientation period are typically not accepted for CE credits, either. There are a few states that will recognize your work as a preceptor, though, so if you have officially served in a preceptor capacity for a nursing student or new nurse employee, you may be able to count that towards your annual requirements.
  8. Your Nursing CEU must come from an accredited organization that is approved by your state’s board of nursing. This point cannot be stressed enough. In order for you to meet your state board of nursing’s requirements for continuing education, you must complete activities or courses of study that are approved by the ANCC or other board-approved organizations. Your state’s board of nursing website will have a list of acceptable sources of nursing CEUs, so be sure to read it carefully and make sure that your courses are accredited and will count toward your requirements.
  9. Keep all of your certificates. There is nothing worse than spending a lot of time and money on continuing education courses only to not get credit for them because you don’t have the certificate to prove that you did it. Print and save all of your completion certificates, even if you don’t have to show them in order to renew your license. There is always the chance that you will be audited by your board of nursing when you renew your license or by your employer at your yearly review, so that’s all the more reason to keep up with your CE and keep the certificates as proof.
Nurse with CEU book

Nursing is more than a profession; it is a commitment to lifelong learning that doesn’t stop when the scrubs come off and the stethoscope is hung up for the day. Nursing is a world that is constantly evolving, and it is a nurse’s responsibility to keep up with the changes and adapt their practice in keeping with current guidelines and best practices. Medicine will always move faster than we do, and nursing continuing education helps nurses keep up the pace to be at the forefront of healthcare advances.