Types, Benefits, and State-By-State Requirements
From patient-care fundamentals to cultural competence, nurses study a ton of important subjects in nursing school. And while graduating with a BSN is a major milestone for any registered nurse, it’s effectively the foundation of a career-long educational journey.
Besides lots of on-the-job learning from their nursing and healthcare colleagues, nurses also take part in continuing education programs to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Staying current on the latest developments in healthcare helps nurses become better providers and patient advocates. And for nurses looking to grow their careers, continuing education is also an essential part of advancing to the highest-paying nursing jobs.
Continuing Education Definition
What Is Nursing Continuing Education?
Within nursing, continuing education (often called CE for short) consists of formally structured training that helps nurses build new skills and stay up to date with important advancements in the medical field. Many states in the U.S. require nurses to complete continuing education programs every few years to maintain their nursing license.
Continuing education for nurses may be focused on certain nursing specialties or patient populations. CE may also involve learning new technologies and clinical skills or building the cultural and leadership skills that are important for a successful career.
While nursing continuing education comes in many forms, courses must be designed and delivered by qualified organizations to fulfill state licensing requirements. Most states and professional organizations track continuing education using “contact hours”—60 minutes of learning in an approved course counts as one contact hour.
Why Is Continuing Education Important for Nurses?
Medical knowledge and technologies can change rapidly. Throughout history, there are many examples of once-common treatments that we now understand to be ineffective at best, or outright harmful at worst!
Because nurses are often the primary point of contact for their patients, continuing education can be a significant factor in patient outcomes. Ongoing training encourages long-term clinical competence and keeps nurses informed of the latest advancements in healthcare.
Just like in any career, nurses who add to their expertise are more likely to have opportunities for professional advancement—and better job satisfaction as a result. Academic studies have shown nurses who participate in professional development programs have higher job satisfaction, better productivity, and greater resistance to burnout.
Types of Continuing Education for Nurses
Nurses can pursue continuing education in several different formats, each with their own pros and cons. Everyone learns a little differently, and there’s not necessarily a right or wrong approach. Depending on your schedule, your lifestyle, and what you’re hoping to get out of the experience, one of these options might be the best fit for you and your goals.
In-person courses or workshops
Many people are hands-on learners and find that in-person interactions help them stay engaged when learning something new. Courses that include personalized instruction and feedback are among the most effective types of continuing education for nurses. In-person workshops also create networking opportunities with your fellow healthcare professionals.
One downside of in-person CE can be limited scheduling options compared to the flexibility of online or self-paced courses. You may need to take time off work or cover your own travel expenses. However, many nurses find these to be worthwhile investments considering the long-term career growth continuing education enables.
Conferences are another fantastic option for fulfilling the continuing education requirements for nurses. They frequently offer learning opportunities on a variety of topics, so you can choose courses based on what’s relevant to your current specialty or your long-term career goals.
Nursing conferences are also one of the best networking opportunities for nurses. Getting together with thousands of other RNs can help you make new contacts with potential employers and learn from providers in different healthcare systems. Conferences are also a great opportunity to have some fun exploring a new city with your fellow nurses!
For many nurses, the main drawback of nursing conferences is the challenge of taking sufficient time away from the clinical floor. Depending on your employer’s CE reimbursement policies, you may also need to cover some or all of your travel expenses or registration fees.
Online nursing continuing education courses are a solid option for people who do well with self-paced learning. You can complete them on your own schedule, there’s a huge variety of CE courses available online, and you don’t have to worry about making travel arrangements or getting shifts covered.
Compared to in-person conferences or workshops, some people find the relative lack of interaction with instructors can hamper their learning experience. However, if you can stay focused and master the material, completing your continuing education requirements online is a convenient and low-cost approach that’s proven very successful for many nurses.
Professional nursing organizations like American Nurses Association (and affiliated state nursing associations) are many nurses’ go-to resources when it comes to continuing education. There are also lots of nursing organizations focused on specialized fields like emergency nursing, pediatric nursing, or orthopedic nursing, just to name a few. Membership often includes discounts for continuing education courses and advanced certifications, as well as special CE opportunities just for members.
While most professional nursing organizations require annual membership fees, many nurses consider them to be a drop in the bucket compared to the networking, educational, and advancement opportunities they receive in return.
Benefits of Continuing Education for Nurses
Continuing education comes with numerous benefits for nurses, their patients, and even their employers. Here are a few of the most important ones:
Improved patient care
Clinically and culturally competent nurses contribute to better patient outcomes and more satisfied patients. Well-trained nurses lead to better patient safety, often because they make fewer mistakes and can take quick action when they recognize signs of a problem.
Opportunities for career advancement
Continuing education can help nurses move into more specialized roles or leadership positions, which often come with higher salaries. Even if you love what you do, there’s always more to learn in nursing. Continuing education shows current and future employers your value as you continue to develop your clinical and communication skills.
Higher job satisfaction
Everyone wants to feel like they’re good at their job, and professional development is one of the most important drivers of job satisfaction in any career or industry. One survey saw 94% of employees report they’d stay loyal to their employer if they had sufficient training and development opportunities.
Many forms of continuing education, like workshops, conferences, and in-person classes, allow nurses to connect with their peers. Just like in any profession, building a strong network of colleagues, and potential referrals can be a major boon when taking the next step in your career.
Keeping up with industry changes
The healthcare industry evolves rapidly, and nurses who stay up to date on the latest practices, policies, and technologies make better healthcare providers and more desirable employees.
Successful hospitals and healthcare networks
By improving the patient experience, well-trained nurses can help their hospital, clinic, or healthcare system build a stronger reputation and a more successful organization. In the case of an unfortunate incident that results in legal action, continuing education can also potentially shield providers and healthcare facilities from liability.
How to Choose the Right Nursing Continuing Education Resources
There are a massive amount of continuing education options available for nurses. It’s important to choose CE courses relevant to your field of nursing and your long-term professional goals. Whether you want to become an expert in your current field or move into a new nursing specialty, continuing education will be a part of your journey.
Make sure you’re choosing continuing education courses from reputable providers. The American Nurses Credentialing Center and most professional nursing organizations can connect you with approved CE opportunities to match your ambitions and areas of interest.
For many nurses, cost can be a determining factor in deciding what continuing education opportunities to pursue. Travel, accommodations, and registration fees for professional conferences or in-person workshops can be expensive, leading many nurses to consider online options.
However, many healthcare employers offer stipends or financial assistance for nurses to complete their continuing education requirements. Memberships to professional nursing organizations also frequently include discounts on continuing education. Remember to explore all your options, and you could save some serious cash.
Requirements for Nursing Continuing Education
After graduating from nursing school and passing the NCLEX exam, you’ll be eligible to become licensed on a state-by-state basis. However, most states require a certain amount of continuing education for nurses every two to three years. Failure to fulfill these requirements could cause you to lose your nursing license, and your job as a result.
Even in states with looser policies on continuing education for nurses, opting out could limit your potential for promotions, raises, and other types of career advancement.
Nursing Continuing Education Requirements By State
Each state in the U.S. has its own requirements regarding education and licensure for nurses. We’ve pulled together a short summary of continuing education requirements by state to maintain a valid nursing license in each location. Each state’s nursing board can provide up-to-date specifics on licensing requirements.
Alabama: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Alaska: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Arizona: No state requirement for continuing education
Arkansas: 15 contact hours every 2 years
California: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Colorado: No state requirement for continuing education
Connecticut: No state requirement for continuing education
Delaware: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Florida: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Georgia: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Hawaii: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Idaho: 15 contact hours every 2 years
Illinois: 20 contact hours every 2 years
Indiana: No state requirement for continuing education
Iowa: 36 contact hours every 3 years
Kansas: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Kentucky: 14 contact hours every year
Louisiana: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Maine: No state requirement for continuing education
Maryland: No state requirement for continuing education
Massachusetts: 15 contact hours every 2 years
Michigan: 25 contact hours every 2 years
Minnesota: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Mississippi: 20 contact hours every 2 years
Missouri: No state requirement for continuing education
Montana: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Nebraska: 20 contact hours every 2 years
Nevada: 30 contact hours every 2 years
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: Infection control every 4 years
North Carolina: 30 contact hours every 2 years
North Dakota: 12 contact hours every 2 years
Ohio: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Oklahoma: 24 contact hours every 2 years
Oregon: One-time 7-hour pain management course
Pennsylvania: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Rhode Island: 10 contact hours every 2 years
South Carolina: 30 contact hours every 2 years
South Dakota: No state requirement for continuing education
Tennessee: 5 contact hours every 2 years, plus evidence of additional learning
Texas: 20 contact hours every 2 years
Utah: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Vermont: No state requirement for continuing education
Virginia: 30 contact hours every 2 years
Washington: 45 contact hours every 3 years
West Virginia: 12 contact hours every year
Wisconsin: No state requirement for continuing education
Wyoming: No state requirement for nurses working full-time
Start Your Nursing Career at Provo College
Nursing is an ever-evolving profession, and continuing education programs are essential for all types of nurses to maximize their potential and stay at the top of their field. A lifelong approach to learning helps nurses treat patients more effectively and advance in their careers, and can also lead to greater confidence and job satisfaction.
No matter what nursing specialty you plan to pursue, a strong educational foundation prepares you to become the best healthcare provider you can possibly be. Thanks to experienced instructors, convenient online classes, and industry-leading training tools, the BSN program at Provo College helps future nurses build the fundamentals they’ll use their entire careers.
Looking to learn more about starting your career as an RN? Check out our detailed guide on how to become a registered nurse.