Nurses who’ve never taken Continuing Education Units (CEUs) before could easily feel confused by all the regulations. Not only are there many of them, but they’re also different depending on which state you’re in. Then there are the nurses that may not have state-mandated CEUs to take, but are required to complete them by their employer instead. Whatever the case, there’s a lot to learn for newly registered nurses.

If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place. The good news is that once you have the basic information down, the rest of it falls into place more easily. Plus, there are plenty of online resources for nurses taking their CEUs. For example, Nursing CE Central provides state-specific CEU courses for free, and each state’s board of nursing (BON) lists key data such as the length and deadline for each license renewal period, how many contact hours are required, and so on.

Why is continuing education so important for nurses?

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Many discussions of nursing CEUs cover aspects like the importance of meeting state requirements, or the consequences of missing the license renewal deadline, but not all of them stress the importance of continuing education for nurses in a broader sense.

The truth is that the medical field is always changing. Not only are medical professionals constantly learning new and better techniques and information, but they’re also moving away from practices that are now considered ineffective, or even dangerous to patients. For example, it used to be standard practice to administer IM injections in the dorso-gluteal area; that was just what the science of the day had determined was best. Since then, however, it’s been found that this injection site comes with the risk of sciatic nerve damage. Without continuing education, a nurse could continue to administer IM injections at the wrong site, endangering patients and affecting lives for the worse, not for the better.

Fortunately, CEUs are very effective at teaching practicing nurses about the latest advances in the medical field. Available CEU courses span the entire range of what a practicing nurse would benefit from learning, and nurses in the same workplace can also share vital information with each other. Plus, 35 out of 50 states require some level of continuing education for nurses; in the states that don’t, many healthcare establishments make it a policy to require CEUs for nurses anyway.

Key requirements for CEUs – a guide

Regardless of what your specific state requires, there are several factors to pay attention to when determining your plan of action for CEUs. Here’s the overview:

• Every course must be accredited

A CEU course can be accredited by the state BON, or by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). If you’re spoiled for choice and want to know which type of credentialing would make more of a difference, go for the ANCC variety; it’s pretty much the gold standard for CEU accreditation.

Without proper accreditation, a course will only count as generic continuing education, not as a CEU. You could still benefit from it, sure, but it won’t have any impact on your CEU requirements.

• Check with your state’s BON for all requirements

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Whether it’s the deadline, the length of the license renewal period, the number of CEUs needed, or anything else, the state BON will have the answer. The above information will be available on their website, but they can answer trickier questions too. For example, if you’re hoping to take a nursing-related seminar but can’t establish whether or not it’s accredited, the state BON will be able to give you an answer.

• You may need to take specific CEU courses

Some states let you choose all of the courses you take, but others designate a specific number of contact hours to be spent on certain topics. These topics could include recognizing impairment in the workplace, preventing medication errors, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and more. These required topics don’t usually take up a significant portion of the overall contact hours required; the main thing is to know what’s mandated by your state.

• The consequences of missing the license renewal deadline are pretty serious

Most people know which deadlines they need to have a healthy respect for; this is definitely one of them. Since CEUs are required in order to renew your nursing license, that should be enough to motivate you to complete everything on time. If the deadline is missed, there’s more than just a slap on the wrist. You could actually lose your nursing license, and then your job (since healthcare establishments can’t employ nurses with invalid licenses). You might be able to get your license back by completing the missing coursework and submitting the relevant course data, but what’s more likely is that you’ll have to take the nurse’s exam all over again to qualify for your nursing license.

• CEU courses can be so much more than just by-the-book continuing education

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It’s easy to get caught up in all the technical requirements, and lose sight of what CEU courses can do in terms of advancing your career. For example, instead of going for the easiest, cheapest courses, you could look for the ones that offer advanced certifications. Rather than taking whatever’s being offered locally, you could search specifically for CEUs that let you develop an area of specialty.

What benefits could this strategy bring? In addition to simply making you a better nurse, you could end up qualifying for a raise, a promotion, or a better job. Even if you don’t want to make anything happen right away, there are plenty of CEU courses that look really great on a resume.

• You can find CEU courses from many different course providers

Just because they’re called “courses” doesn’t mean they’re all classroom-based. Some CEUs are, for sure, but others take the form of workshops, seminars, certification courses, online courses, and more.

The takeaway

New nurses may not be looking forward to taking their first CEUs, but once they’ve gotten acquainted with all the requirements, the first part of the battle will already be over.