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Trusted Guide to Nursing CEUs

Aug 7, 2019
Sarah Gray, RN

What Are CEUs?

Continuing Education Units, or CEUs (sometimes referred to as Continuing Education Credits or Continuing Education Courses), are a means of measuring continued education for nursing professionals with licenses, certifications, and professional memberships. They are a standard unit of measurement.

They’re not unique to nurses, as they’re also utilized for doctors, engineers, lawyers, certified public accountants, real estate agents, various types of financial advisers, and other professions. They may also be referred to or filed as Continuing Competence Requirements (CCRs).

Various regulatory bodies require that these professionals earn a specific number of CEUs every year or other year to ensure that they are compliant with current practices, meet at least minimum standards for safe practice, and maintain sufficient relevance in order to renew a license to practice. The actual number of CEUs required per license or certification renewal can vary by state, license, and profession. Some states don’t even require them at all!

CEUs for Nurses (and Their Benefits)

CEUs may be a requirement, but they’re also at the core of personal career growth. They’re a driver for the ability to consistently be a knowledgeable and modern professional.

If you’re a nursing student or new grad, take a deep breath before reading this.

Education never ends.

Nursing school will not last forever. You will find your feet under you and feel confident in your clinical skills, judgement, and critical thinking. You will know a lot, and know enough, but you will never, ever know everything.

There will always be more to learn. Every day is another opportunity to learn something new, determine an alternative solution, or discover a different way of thinking.

CEUs as a requirement are a guarantee that you continue to learn and stay up to date. Beyond the requirement, the key to a fulfilling and progressive career is a perpetual hunger for learning and education. The requirement is just another flame in your fire to become the most knowledgeable professional possible.

Healthcare is an ever-changing industry. It is also an industry where evidence-based practice is not only the gold standard, it's also the expectation.

When thinking about CEUs, try to adopt this mindset:

It’s my duty as a clinician to be as educated and knowledgeable as I can in order to deliver the safest and highest quality of care to my patients. Being informed and educated enables me to practice responsibly and efficiently.

You know what they say about death and taxes? Well, if you’re a nurse, add nursing CEUs to that list.

How to Make the Most of Your CEUs 👇

nursing plan
If you don't plan ahead, your CEUs will creep up on you!


1. Make a Plan

CEUs are time consuming and frustrating to find, obtain, and keep track of. Don’t get into the habit of being just months away from another renewal, realizing you barely have a single CEU to your name. You're then forced to keep your eyes peeled for free nursing CEUs at the last minute. Don’t get CEU-desperate. Give yourself the luxury of having standards and avoiding more stress than necessary.

It’s essential to make a plan and be strategic about CEUs.

First, determine your next renewal date. Even better, determine the absolute latest date for renewal submission to maintain active status. It is definitely not worth risking the chance of your current license expiring and not being able to work (and leaving your co-workers short a shift or two), or even worse, having to renew from an inactive status.

Next, set a halfway-to-renewal point, which will likely be 1 year, 1.5 years, or 2 years. Doing this ahead of time will force you at this point to get really serious about the matter. Depending on the frequency of your renewal needs or number of CEUs, you may want to make it a point to reassess quarterly. If you have a larger number of CEUs to obtain -- i.e. 30 in California, or specific content, like in West Virginia or Kentucky -- it may require a bit more planning.

Put all of these aforementioned dates in your calendar, whether it’s a pen-and-paper, Google calendar, or something else you use. The more you can automate this process the better. Don’t rely on your memory or be confident that you’ll just magically think of CEUs at some point before the final countdown.

2. Gather Information

As previously mentioned, RNs are required in most states to complete a certain number of CEUs to maintain an active license and pursue furthered professional development. Courses must be taken through a continuing education provider recognized by the Board of Registered Nursing. Some states specify content requirements, while others have more freedom in the course content or focus. Unless you’re licensed to work in one of the 16 states that don’t require CEUs, then you’re on the hook.

Determine your CEU requirements. This is done by state. Be sure to note nuances such as specific courses or course content, time frames, inclusions and exclusions, and issuer compliance and verification. If you’re licensed or applying to a compact state, see information below regarding compact states. On the list below, compact states are denoted by an asterisk(*).

Each state name contains a link to the state board of nursing, which is always the most up-to-date source of information ("N/A" - CE not currently required).

CEU Requirements by State:

  • ALABAMA 24 contact hours every 2 years (12 hours can be completed through independent study)
  • ALASKA Two of the following every 2 years: 30 contact hours or 30 hours professional nursing activities or 320 hours nursing practice
  • ARIZONA* Every 4 years: At least 960 hours of nursing practice or graduation + degree from nursing program, or completion of a board approved refresher course, or an advanced nursing degree within last 5 years
  • ARKANSAS* 15 contact hours every 2 years or completion of a recognized academic course in nursing or related field
  • CALIFORNIA 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • COLORADO* N/A
  • CONNECTICUT N/A
  • DELAWARE* 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA 24 contact hours every 2 years
  • FLORIDA* 24 contact hours every 2 years (one hour is required for each calendar month of licensure cycle + 2 hours on medical error prevention; HIV/AIDS is a one-time CE requirement; domestic violence CE is required every 3rd renewal)
  • GEORGIA* N/A
  • HAWAII N/A
  • IDAHO* N/A
  • ILLINOIS 20 contact hours every 2 years
  • INDIANA N/A
  • IOWA* 36 contact hours every 3 years; 24 contact hours for initial renewal. From an inactive status: 12 contact hours within recent 12 months (2 hours abuse reporting education is required every 5 years)
  • KANSAS 30 contact hours every 2 years (no maximum on the number of independent study hours)
  • KENTUCKY* 14 contact hours each year (includes one-time requirement of 3 hours domestic violence & pediatric abusive head trauma) *please refer to website for various ways to fulfill this requirement*
  • LOUISIANA Full-time: 5 contact hours; Part-time: 10 contact hours; Unemployed or <160 hours practice: 15 contact hours
  • MAINE* N/A
  • MARYLAND* Approved refresher course
  • MASSACHUSETTS 15 contact hours every 2 years
  • MICHIGAN 25 hours every 2 years (at least one hour in pain and symptom management)
  • MINNESOTA 24 contact hours every 2 years
  • MISSISSIPPI* N/A
  • MISSOURI* N/A
  • MONTANA* N/A
  • NEBRASKA* 20 contact hours every 2 years + 500 hours of nursing practice (at least 10 hours must be formally peer reviewed and approved, up to 4 hours may be CPR or BLS courses)
  • NEVADA 30 contact hours every 2 years (plus state-required bioterrorism course)
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE* 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • NEW JERSEY 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • NEW MEXICO* 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • NEW YORK 3 contact hours of infection control every 4 years + 2 contact hours child abuse (specific CE requirement for initial license only)
  • NORTH CAROLINA* 30 contact hours or 15 contact hours + combo every 2 years *please refer to website for various ways to fulfill this requirement*
  • NORTH DAKOTA* 12 contact hours every 2 years
  • OHIO 24 contact hours every 2 years (at least one contact hour must be related to Chapters 4723,1-23 of the Ohio nurse practice code and rules)
  • OKLAHOMA* N/A
  • OREGON A one-time 7-hour pain management course
  • PENNSYLVANIA 30 contact hours every 2 years
  • RHODE ISLAND 10 contact hours every 2 years
  • SOUTH CAROLINA* Every 2 years at least one of the following: 30 contact hours, maintenance of a recognized certification or re-certification, completion of an academic program in nursing or a related field, verification of competency and number of hours practices as evidence by employer certification
  • SOUTH DAKOTA* N/A
  • TENNESSEE* Must have nursing practice in the last 5 years + State Board competencies
  • TEXAS* 20 contact hours every 2 years (2-hour Forensic Evidence Collection CE for ER RNs)
  • UTAH* Every 2 years: 30 contact hours OR 200 practice hours + 15 contact hours OR 400 practice hours
  • VERMONT N/A
  • VIRGINIA* N/A
  • WASHINGTON N/A
  • WEST VIRGINIA*12 contact hours each year (2-hour mental health CE + 1 hour prescribing & drug diversion CE, 3-hour initial) *please refer to website for alternative ways to fulfill this requirement*
  • WISCONSIN* N/A
  • WYOMING* 20 contact hours in the last 2 years OR combo of nursing practice and contact hours *please refer to website for alternative ways to fulfill this requirement*

    You can start with the Trusted Licensure Guide, but you should always double check with your state board of nursing for the most updated requirements.

What Are Compact States?

Compact states participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), sometimes seen as "eNCL", which grants a multi-state license to nurses within those states. This provides reciprocity among the states, meaning that having a compact nursing license allows nurses to practice in any of the 25 states without having to apply for licensure specific to that state. Think of it as a passport to practice without needing any sort of visa or jumping through any additional hoops.

Note that this multi-state licensure is limited to Registered Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses. It does not apply to Advanced Practice Nurses.


What Are the 25 Compact States?

The 25 nursing compact states are: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

To be eligible for this multi-state license, you must be able to declare a single compact state as your primary state of residence. Simply applying for a license in a compact state does not make you eligible to legally practice in the other 24 states. As a non-resident (i.e. not having primary residence in the state), you will be eligible only to legally practice in the state you apply for licensure in.

For example, if your primary residence is California and you apply for a license in Arizona, that license will only allow you to practice in Arizona and not give you reciprocity for the additional 24 states.

nursing conference


3. Explore Opportunities

And be particular about them! If you’ve followed the steps up until this point, you should have the luxury of being picky about which CEUs are worth your time.

This means classes, conferences, or continuing education and training that you’re sincerely interested in and that are relevant to your practice (especially since these programs require hours of participation). Your time is far too valuable to be sitting through boring seminars that don’t provide you any real value beyond a sheer unit of something required.

Think beyond your specialty and what you know really well. There is certain content in healthcare that is ever-changing and important to be periodically re-educated on. If you work in a care setting where you’re constantly being exposed to varying diagnoses, such as a medical and/or surgical unit, it can be difficult to become an expert in any one specialty, patient population, or procedure.

Despite this aforementioned position seeming like a negative, it actually is quite positive for the speed of learning and knowledge potential because of the sheer number of things you’re exposed to and have to learn.

If you come across a course that catches your eye but isn’t directly relevant to what you do everyday, don’t hesitant to sign up. The more well-rounded you become, the more knowledgeable you will be as a clinician. Additionally, if you have considered changing specialities or initially wanted to work in different patient population or care setting, use the CEU requirement as an opportunity to explore this interest. You never know!

How to Get CEUs

The one inevitability here is that CEUs will require your time. They may not have to cost you anything beyond that, unless your state requires a certain type of education that won’t be covered by your employer. Accordingly, a lot of nurses search for nursing CEUs online, but bear in mind the economic concept of opportunity cost.

Your opportunity cost is what you give up when you choose to do one thing over another. A certain course may not cost you any cash, but if it replaces work or other paid time, it does have a cost – your opportunity cost. So think twice when searching for nursing CEUs for less or even for free if irrelevant or less valuable.

Note: Depending on your role, facility, or union, you can get paid for all of your time spent in continuing education, typically up to a certain number of hours per calendar year.

It goes without saying to ensure the authenticity of the provider before committing to the time (and cost) that CEUs require. Check with your specific regulatory board (most likely your state board of nursing) to confirm accreditation and recognition for validity of the CEU provider. Most states require providers to have license numbers (take note of these).

Online Resources

NurseCEU.com: This is one of the highest-ranked websites for CEUs, which enables more than 15,000 healthcare professionals per month to easily access a multitude of course topics. Accredited companies submit course listings, which go through a rigorous checking process. The site has 761 courses currently listed in 45 topical categories.

Nurse.com: Not free, but if you’re someone who will happily pay for convenience, this is your best bet. In addition to having a multitude of CE options, Nurse.com can also keep a record of your CEUs (which you’ll read about the importance of below) in a transcript. For $49.95 a year, you can get unlimited CEUs. There may be better options for your time and money, but definitely worth considering depending on where you're at in the process, and what your state's requirements are.

NetCe.com: This rigorously peer-reviewed site is unique in that it’s similar to Coursera, where all content is free, but you pay for a certificate or your proof of completion. You can review all course material, complete courses, and review course material all for free. Payment is required only for credit and to print a completion certificate. If you’re drinking the “learning-never-ends” Kool-Aid, NetCe could be a great resource for continual education and pure knowledge building.

Trusted Health: We've created our very own certified CE course specifically for travel nurses (although any nurse, staff or otherwise, can benefit from the credit hours and course content)! It's online and completely free.

Visit the website and request a free packet to be mailed to your home.

National Conferences 

Conferences can be extremely beneficial beyond online courses and simply the perks of earning CEUs. They’re an opportunity to devote time to really immersing yourself in a certain topic with like-minded and diverse individuals from various organizations and specialties. This presents opportunities to learn, network, be challenged, get out of your comfort zone, and sometimes a chance to visit a new city. Some organizations and healthcare facilities will even help to cover the cost of conference fees and associated travel expenses.

You can also look into IRS rules about the ability to write off some of the associated costs.

The best types of professional relationships are made in-person, and conferences that typically span over the course of at least two days allow for time to cultivate interactions and build on introductions. Through meals, staying in the same hotel, or traveling to/from conference sites, you get the chance to really get to know people, sometimes from all over the country.

Conferences also typically have interesting speakers who are leaders in the industry (and maybe your specialty). The cherry on top are the sponsors or vendors who provide exposure to new tools and technology and give out some free stuff.

MDLinx & Lippincott are great resources for discovering conferences around the world that may be relevant to you.

Many nurses are represented by labor unions and associated nursing organizations. Check your local union or organization to see what local conferences are being held. Members often receive free or discounted access to CEUs through the organization or its partners.

Schools & Universities

Many hospitals and health systems are licensed CEU providers. This presents the opportunity to achieve in-house education without the fees or need to coordinate. They’re often more specific to your practice, are smaller, and can feel more individualized than education through a third party. These classes are typically taught and organized by clinical nurse specialists, nurse educators, physicians, and/or co-workers.

These are also great opportunities to review and stay up-to-date on specific facility policies and procedures. In some instances, these classes are free of charge and you actually get paid for your attendance time.

Specialty Certifications

Most specialty certifications require some form of education and training on a regular basis to maintain certification. This education is also typically recognized as a form of CEUs. Some examples of these are Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), Basic Life Support (BLS), and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS).

Certifications through associations such as the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), The National Certification Corporation (NCC), and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) may also be eligible for CEUs.

CEU compliance


4. Manage and Track CEUs

Now, for the tedious, but absolutely necessary, part! You’ve just spent a great deal of time and effort to get to this point, now enjoy the fruits of your labor. Don’t underestimate the value of doing this throughout the entire process. The ideal situation is that you maintain a record of your CEUs and relevant information in real-time, for every single course.

Generally, certificates are issued as proof that a practitioner has completed the required continuing education units. You are required to keep certificates as proof of continuing education completion in the event of an audit. Some states require certificates to be maintained for up to 4 years while others state for the length of your license. So don’t think you’re off the hook after renewal confirmation.

It can also be really useful to have transparency about all of the courses and classes you’ve taken. It helps to see which areas can use some more education and which ones may not be worth completing again. A compilation of these classes can also be helpful for annual evaluations, promotions, and when seeking a new position or job.

Some easy ways to maintain a record of your CEUs are Excel, Microsoft Word, Dropbox, Evernote, or even simply the Notes App on your iPhone. Just ensure it’s all regularly backed-up so that you don’t have to start from scratch. If you want to store all of your credentials in one place, you can create a free Trusted profile and add CEUs to your resume.

Once you get the hang of it, it will become easier each year!