Ways for Nurses to Complete CEU Requirements

education opportunities

There are plenty of requirements for obtaining a nursing license. But it doesn’t stop there – most states also require further education in the form of Continuing Education Units, or CEUs. Nurses may have to complete them periodically, or only once (depending on which state they’re in). The question is, how do today’s nurses prefer to complete their CEU requirements? There are plenty of options for continuing education, but many of them don’t actually count as CEUs. Sites like Nursing CE Central tell nurses exactly which courses are required in their state, or nurses could take free or cheap CEU courses from their place of employment. Those are far from the only options, though; let’s take a closer look at the details. 

Where are CEUs offered?

When considering continuing education courses, you’ll be able to pick between in-person and online courses. There are conferences, seminars, and workshops that you can attend, webinars that’ll give you much the same experience from your computer, and educational packets that you can study independently. There are even a few professional literature topics that may apply to your CEU requirements. But you’d have to check for state approval beforehand. 

In general, organizations that offer CEU courses tend to be schools, government agencies, healthcare organizations (such as the ANCC), professional nursing organizations, and employers in the medical field. Courses from schools can be pretty expensive, but you don’t always have to shell out the big bucks for your CE courses; employers or healthcare organizations (among others) offer courses that are either reasonably priced or totally free. Assuming that every CE course you take won’t be 100% free, remember that the cost of professional development can be deducted from your taxes. 

What’s the difference between CEUs and other nursing-related courses?

There are countless ways for a nurse to learn more about current medical breakthroughs, updated state regulations, and more. However, they can’t simply attend a conference and have it count towards their CEU requirements. 39 out of 50 states mandate that nurses need some form of continuing education in order to maintain their licenses. And the regulations don’t stop there. The CEUs have to be approved by the state, and they have to be offered by an accredited institution.

This can create some confusion for nurses who haven’t completed CEUs before; sometimes it happens that they take courses that they think will count, only to find out that they just spent a bunch of time and money on something they didn’t strictly need. They might have still benefited from the course they took, but that isn’t the only point; they also have to prove to the state that they jumped through the right hoops. If you’ll have to complete CEU courses at some point, make sure you confirm that they’re state-approved first. 

Which types of courses don’t apply to CEU requirements?

Just because a course is relevant to your job as a nurse doesn’t mean the state will include it in your CEU requirements. Here are some of the things that won’t count towards your continuing education.

  • Internships, training programs, or residencies – Even if you learn a lot during these experiences, you can’t count them as time spent earning CEUs. Many of these types of programs put the focus on workplace procedures, more than on state regulations or overall nursing practice. 
  • Continuing Medical Education courses – CME courses are required for medical professionals such as dentist and doctors, but nurses don’t need them. Some nurses in advanced fields of practice might benefit from what they’d learn in a CME course, but that would have to be taken independently from CEU courses.
  • Conventions and seminars – Select conventions or seminars are actually state-approved and accredited, but not all of them. You can’t simply register for one, no matter how illustrious it is, and expect it to count towards your CEU requirements.
  • Most college courses – If a college course is specifically related to nursing, it may count towards your CEU requirements. However, this only applies to a small percentage of them. Getting a nursing license may include taking classes in mathematics, science, and so on. But the same thing can’t be said for completing CEU courses. 
  • CPR and other lifesaving courses – All healthcare professionals have to take these courses, but brushing up on them likely won’t count as a CEU. However, certain advanced courses may be state-approved; it mostly depends on which state you’re in. 

How CEUs are calculated

One course may give you a CEU, while another may only be part of a CEU. What’s the difference? Well, one CEU equals 10 hours of clinical activity or instruction (also called “contact hours”). Complete a course that gives you 10 contact hours, and you’ve obtained one CEU.

How many CEUs are needed?

This differs from state to state. As mentioned previously, 39 states (as well as Washington D.C. and all US territories) require nurses to complete CEUs at some point in order to maintain their licenses. It may only be once, or it may be at periodic intervals. Nurses may also be asked to take CEU courses by their employers.

If you’re looking for a ballpark estimate, many states ask for 24 to 30 contact hours every two years. There’s plenty of variation, but those are the most common numbers you’ll see. There can also be specific requirements for the subject matter that’s covered. For instance, Florida asks that two of the 24 required contact hours be spent on regulations governing state nursing practices, and two of them be spent on medication errors. 

Regulations like these are why it’s so important to confirm which CEUs you need before starting on them. It’s smart to work on your CEU courses well before you need to complete them. But some people start taking them at random, and then find out that some of the courses don’t even count. Fortunately, this is easy to prevent. You just have to plan ahead, check the regulations, and give yourself plenty of time to complete the necessary courses.