What Does and Doesn’t Count as a Nursing CEU?

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Photo : Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Nursing licenses represent a ton of hard work, but that work isn't always over once the registration is made official. Most states require registered nurses to complete CEUs (Continuing Education Units) to make sure they're staying up-to-date with new regulations and innovations in their field. The problem is, there's a ton of confusion regarding CEUs, particularly if you look at the differences state by state. This makes it tricky to choose the right courses. Considering that nurses already tend to put them off until the last minute, it can exacerbate an already complicated situation. 

It's possible to take nursing CEUs from medical centers; many of them even offer these courses to their employees at a low cost or for free. Another option is to get some contact hours from seminars or conferences, or even from college courses. In order to bypass any confusion, many nurses use a platform like so they don't have to second-guess the courses they've chosen to fulfill their state's CEU requirements. 

Even with some extra help, though, there are still several factors to keep in mind when selecting your CEU courses. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

Be aware of the deadlines

Some states have tighter deadlines than others, but many of them ask nurses to complete a certain number of CEUs every two years. That doesn't exactly require a quick turnaround, but this can be a blessing and a curse. Sure, the nurses have two years to make it happen, but that often results in the deadline sneaking up on them. Once they're a few months away from having to complete hours upon hours of coursework, they have to scramble to make sure they complete everything on time.

Know the difference between CEUs and contact hours

Even though some people use the terms interchangeably, they aren't the same. One CEU is equivalent to 10 contact hours. When you look at state-by-state requirements for the number of CEUs you'll need, they're often measured in contact hours.

Extra contact hours don't apply to subsequent renewal periods

There are a few different reasons why you may end up with extra contact hours.

  • The courses you took gave you a couple more hours than you needed.

  • You took courses with overlapping content, so some of the contact hours you earned don't count for the current renewal period.

  • You started working on your CEUs before learning what your state required, had to take on additional courses to fulfill requirements, and ended up with extra contact hours.

Regardless of how you came by your extra contact hours, they'll have to be just that - extra. You could benefit from the knowledge obtained during the courses, but you won't be able to apply them to a current or subsequent renewal period.

CEU requirements vary by state

If you know what your state requires, you're in good shape. However, things can get tricky pretty fast if you're moving to a different state and forget to check up on the regulations there. It's happened before when nurses move for new jobs, forget to confirm the regulations there, and find out about a ton of required coursework just weeks before the deadline.

You also have to consider how many CEUs are required by your state of residence. Washington is on the high end, with 45 contact hours required; most of the 39 states that require nursing CEUs ask for around 24 to 30 contact hours per renewal period.

Speaking of renewal periods, that's another thing that varies for each state. They could be every year, every two or three years, or just once after graduating nursing school.

CEU courses have to be relevant to nursing

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at the variety of courses that people want to count as continuing education for nurses. Nursing CEUs are supposed to enhance a nurse's knowledge, as well as help them with assignments or tasks that require judgement calls or nursing skills. Here's what that includes:

  • Nursing practice related to patient care

  • Nursing research issues, theory, and practice

  • Special nursing practice areas

  • Nursing education

  • Professional conduct

  • Clinical technology

  • Social, legal, and ethical aspects of nursing

  • Initial ACLS, PALS, and NRP

  • Administration, management, and supervision in healthcare delivery

  • Quality management/improvement, accrediting standards, and processes

Here's what that doesn't include:

  • Refresher courses

  • Liberal Arts courses that aren't related to patient care

  • Agency-specific orientation or in-service programs

  • Job- or equipment-related training

  • Courses that aren't designed for medical professionals (such as those meant for laypeople)

  • Self-directed study

  • Basic CPR training

  • Courses on attitude changes, self-therapy, self-awareness, weight loss, or yoga

  • Courses like ACLS, PALS, NALS, and other Advanced Skills Renewal Courses

  • Community service or volunteer practice

  • Orientation programs

  • CEU courses that have overlapping content within a single renewal period

  • Professional conventions/meetings

How to tell if the course you're considering will count as a CEU

Even if you've found a course, conference, or class that's highly relevant to your job as a nurse, it still may not count as a CEU. That's because this decision is ultimately up to the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center), or your state's BON. Without this approval, the time you spend on the coursework will essentially just be for your own personal edification.

With official approval being such a big deal for CEUs, each provider will have a provider number that'll appear on every learner's certificate; ensure that this is in order before submitting your CEU paperwork.

Make sure you're choosing relevant CEUs

If you procrastinate on completing your CEUs until you have to choose what's fast instead of what's most helpful, you'll end up with a bunch of generic coursework that may not actually move your continuing education forward. If you give yourself a little more time, though, you'll have a chance to choose the courses that actually interest you.

The takeaway

Before you complete your CEU requirements, you have to establish what they actually entail. Once that's done, you'll be on the road to success.

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