What Every New Nurse Needs to Know About CEUs


Sandeep Singh

 By the time a nurse has finished nursing school, it can feel like any further studying is simply too much to ask. Even so, many nurses will have to plan ahead for taking CEU (continuing education unit) courses, sometimes even as soon as a year after graduating. Not only are these courses valuable in order for nurses to stay in touch with medical breakthroughs, but they’re also mandated by the state boards of nursing in 35 states. Even if a new nurse’s state doesn’t require CEUs, their employer might – making them required all the same.

Of course, part of the intimidation factor of these courses is that there are simply so many associated requirements. You have to take the right courses, and the right number of courses, by the right deadline…or you could lose your nursing license. Fortunately, it’s easy to find resources to help lighten the load. The healthcare facility where a nurse works may have materials or courses for staff, and sites like Nursing CE Central offer free, state-specific courses for nurses.

A guide to the key requirements for nursing CEUs

It’s time to get into the details – what do nursing CEUs actually entail? There’s a lot of information to unpack once you really dive deep into the subject, but below you’ll find the highlights. There’s more than enough to paint a coherent picture for newly registered nurses; once they’ve digested this information, they’ll be better able to absorb the rest of the details.

  • CEU courses are available in many different formats

If you aren’t looking forward to attending multiple classroom-based courses each year while managing a hectic nurse’s schedule, there’s good news: you probably won’t have to. Instead, you can attend seminars, take workshops or certification courses, sign up for online courses, and more. In some states, you can even earn CEU credit by teaching courses, or getting published in a peer-reviewed journal (although this is approved on a case-by-case basis). There’s an option for every schedule and learning style, so take the time to learn about them before registering.

  • CEU courses should be used to advance your career, not just keep your license current

The main point of CEU courses is to be able to renew your nursing license – on paper, anyway. If you’re using them to their full potential, though, you’ll also take them to benefit your goals as a nurse. What could that mean in a more practical sense? Well, if you wanted to simply become a better nurse, you could take courses that focused on areas of weakness. If you wanted to qualify for a promotion or a raise, you could earn a certification that you knew your employers were looking for. Continuing education can be a powerful tool, so you might as well use it to your advantage.

  • Some states require specific topics to be studied

In most cases, you’ll be able to choose which CEU courses you register for. In some states, though, you’ll be required to study specific topics. These usually only occupy a few contact hours, and rarely involve more than two specified topics. They include domestic violence, preventing medication errors, HIV/AIDS, recognizing impairment in the workplace, and more. If you aren’t sure whether or not your state’s board of nursing has this requirement, it’s best to double-check.

  • Get your answers from the state board of nursing

There’s a lot of information on nursing CEUs online, but it doesn’t always answer every question that a nurse can have. For example, if you need to ask about the accreditation status of a certain course, the state BON is the only source that can verify it. Plus, they’ll always have the most current and reliable information on things like deadlines, number of required contact hours, and so on. When in doubt, check with your state’s BON.

  • Only take accredited CEUs

There are a ton of continuing education courses out there for nurses, but only a portion of them are actually accredited as CEUs. Accreditation can come from either the ANCC (which is the highest form of accreditation), or from the state board of nursing.

  • It’s required to document your CEU courses

Another one of many state BON requirements for nurses is that they keep records of the CEUs they’ve completed. In some cases, these records have to be shared with the state BON as part of the license renewal process. In others, they simply have to be kept in case of a random audit. In yet others, it isn’t required – but you should still do it, just in case there’s ever a dispute about which courses you’ve completed. Just like with several other requirements, there are variations from state to state concerning how long these records have to be maintained. If you don’t already know what the rules are for your state, that information should be available on your state BON’s website.

Why continuing education is so crucial for nurses

When discussing CEUs for nurses, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture because you’re focusing too much on the technical details. Because the field of healthcare is changing and improving all the time, it’s important for nurses to have access to this new information. Without it, they’ll be carrying on with outdated – and possibly dangerous – medical practices.

As an example, IM injections used to be administered in the dorso-gluteal area, but it’s since been determined that this can cause damage to the sciatic nerve. How would this type of information be disseminated to nurses without continuing education, though? These and other findings would have been published in journals and eventually included in educational materials, but nurses who were already registered wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to those sources. They would either have to constantly read medical journals for updates…or take CEU courses for more consistent education.

The takeaway

CEU courses may not be something that nurses look forward to, but at least with the right information at their fingertips, new nurses don’t have to feel as confused about how they’re going to fulfill these requirements.