Many professions require practitioners to complete course credits called Continuing Education Units, or CEUs, to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in their field. Nursing is no exception. Most state boards of nursing require that you complete a certain amount of continuing education every few years in order to keep your license in good standing.
CEUs are sometimes known by other names as well, such as:
- Contact hours
- Continuing Education (CE) credits
- Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) Units
While there can be some differences, often these terms are used interchangeably.
Why are CEUs required for nursing?
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) deemed CEUs necessary to maintain the high-quality of healthcare that nurses provide all over the country. If the nursing license is the means to check the competence of nursing graduates before allowing them to begin practicing, CEUs ensure that practicing nurses have the knowhow of the latest treatment techniques in the field. Since CE content evolves with the times, this is the best way for nurses to stay up-to-date on the latest medical practices, techniques, and discussions.
Continuing education also gives nurses the opportunity to explore and learn about specific areas like pain management, geriatrics, or home health and hospice care.
How do CE credits affect nursing licenses?
Since the primary objective of CEU credits is to keep nurses competent and updated, most states require their nurses to earn around 20-30 hours of CEU before they can renew their license to practice. Precise requirements vary state-to-state, and sometimes include specific types of courses, or different requirements for RNs, LPNs, APRNs, and other types of nurses.
Although nursing boards in states like Arizona, Delaware, and Colorado do not require CEU credits, potential employers in these states may look into your CEUs while considering you for a position, especially if you are applying for jobs with specialty certifications.
What counts as CE credits?
CEUs can only be awarded by providers that have had their programs approved by an accrediting board. The most well-known of these is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
The board of nursing licensure in your state or territory determines exactly what activities you can and can’t use to meet your education requirements in that state. In general, you can expect the following:
- Content approved by your state board of nursing or the ANCC
- Courses to move into specialty areas of nursing practice
- Initial certification for advanced skills such as ACLS or PALS (varies by state)
- Courses to advance your education with a BSN or graduate degree
- Content on professional nursing conduct
Activities that don’t usually count for CEUs:
- General education classes
- Basic CPR courses
- Advanced skills renewal courses (ACLS, PALS) (varies by state)
- Courses designed for lay persons
- Facility orientation or in-service trainings
- Community service or volunteer activities
How to earn CE credits
Most nurses put off earning their CEUs until the last minute, and then scramble to find classes that would accommodate them. We suggest you do the exact opposite and reach your CEU credit requirements well before your license renewal deadline.
Once you’ve completed a continuing education course, it’s recommended that you keep the records of your CE credits either physically or digitally for at least 3 license renewal cycles in case of an audit during your license renewal.
Failure to show the minimum amount of approved continuing education can result in your nursing license being suspended until you make it up.
Where to find nursing CEUs
You are responsible for making sure that you get the required amount of CEUs. Fortunately, continuing education for nurses is pretty easy to find. Courses can be taken in-person or online, and can be either free or paid.
Some common sources for CEUs are your employer, any specialty or professional organizations that you might belong to, or online continuing education platforms.
Wherever you choose to take your continuing education units:
- Make sure you confirm that they accreditation
- Confirm how they will provide you with documentation of your contact hours (you may not want to wait for snail mail)
Where to find free CEUs online
Incredible Health now offers 100% free CEUs accredited by the ANCC in all 50 states, Washington DC, and Guam. Download your certificates immediately after finishing the courses.
Earn your CEUs free
Our easy online CE courses are ANCC-accredited and 100% free for nurses.