CEUs: Are They Relevant to Practice

November 11th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

Recently RNCentral.com provided readers with a list of the continuing education units (CEUs) each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia require for nurses to maintain their licenses. Thirteen states require 30 or more CEUs and the rules for attainment are sometimes complicated; 18 states require no continuing education; the remaining 20 states fall somewhere in-between.

Another facet of the requirements for earned CEUs in some states is they must have relevance to the nurse's specialty area of practice. Some states have a couple mandatory CEUs each re-licensing time and other states will allow you to earn credits in an area once, but not again (for example you can claim approximately 14 CEUs for Advanced Cardiac Life Support class the first time you take it, but if you take it again when you re-certify the CEUs don't count). In other states you can take anything you want, attend a few lectures and call it done.

All this makes me wonder about the relevance of continuing education. The intended goal of CEUs is to make sure nurses consistently pursue information that teaches them more than what they already know or what they would be required to know for an initial nurse’s license. In other words, professional nurses are made responsible for educational and professional improvement. This is not a bad thing.

However, recently I attended a very interesting lecture that had nothing to do with my job as an operating room nurse. Lunch was included and as I left I was handed a certificate for one state-approved continuing education credit. This was great for me; 19 more to go for my Texas re-licensure but was it relevant or provide educational improvement to my practice—not really.

As the need for qualified nursing personnel grows, so does the need for nursing continuing education. Every day there are advances in medications, technologies, and research that change the practice of nursing. By sharpening current skills and learning new ones, nurses create opportunities for themselves. The more knowledgeable and experienced you are as a nurse the safer you are as a practitioner and the more patients you can help.

Whether it is called continuing education or lifelong learning or continuing professional development it does seem relevant to a field that is fluid. An article in Nurse Education Today, a few years back, said, "Professional behavior is the hallmark of professional growth and development, which becomes more evident as nurses engage in continuing education programs…[and] that competence could only be maintained by continuing education."

The consequences of quality, relevant CEUs are:

  • Improved quality healthcare
  • Growth and development as a nursing profession
  • Acquiring credentials to expand the role (ie: attaining certification in a nursing specialty)

It is each individual nurse's responsibility to pursue the CEUs necessary to maintain a state's nursing license. Some states manage that for you in their individual requirements. Other states will let you pick your own CEUs. For some of you it is not a requirement to take part in continuing education, but you should anyway.

It is that same individual responsibility you bring to caring for your patients that you should bring to choosing continuing education. It is our responsibility to grow our profession, to take responsibility for keeping up with changes and advances in care. CEUs may be easy enough to collect but I think they should be relevant; relevant to our individual career paths, relevant to our patient's care and relevant to our profession.

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