How to Tell if a Course Meets Nursing CEU Requirements

How to Tell if a Course Meets Nursing CEU Requirements

If you’ve been a registered nurse for any length of time, chances are you’ve had to complete CEUs (Continuing Education Units) at some point. Even if you’re in one of the few states that don’t require them for nurses, you’re probably still aware of how important they are in other states. Nursing CEUs, when required by state regulations, are necessary in order to keep your nursing license current. As such, they aren’t exactly optional if you want to continue practicing as a nurse. 

Nursing CEUs can be obtained from many different places. You can take college courses that count as CEUs, ask your employer if they offer anything for their employees, or complete your nursing CEUs on This last option is designed to guide you through your state-specific requirements, but if you’re choosing the CE courses yourself, you’ll have to keep some things in mind.

CEUs need the right approval

The idea behind continuing education units for nurses is that they’re meant to provide the latest and greatest information in the field. Nurses can’t simply prove that they went to a conference or professional meeting and ask that it be counted as “continuing education”. 

The golden standard for CEU approval comes from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Another source of approval is from each state’s BON or BRN. Without one of the two, even the most informative and cutting-edge courses won’t count towards your CEU requirements.

You may have to keep records of your CEUs

The regulations vary by state (you’ll hear that a lot when researching nursing CEUs), but regardless of what your particular state dictates, it’s always a good idea to hold onto your records just in case.

The details you should keep include the provider number, date of completion, number of contact hours completed, and the course name. If you wanted to err on the side of caution, you could even convert your documents to electronic files. Because a few states ask nurses to maintain CEU records for several renewal cycles, you might have an easier time doing that if you aren’t trying to keep track of multiple stacks of paper from different years. 

CEUs have to fall within certain topics

The range of coursework that’s required for nursing licenses covers a lot of ground, but CEUs are a lot more dialed in. Since they’re just intended to be refreshers, they’re supposed to be pretty specific. Here are some examples of what would be included in nursing CEUs:

  • Accrediting standards, processes, quality management, and quality improvement
  • Management, administration, and supervision in healthcare delivery
  • Initial PALS, ACLS, and NRP
  • Legal, social, and ethical aspects of nursing
  • Clinical technology
  • Professional conduct
  • Nursing education
  • Special aspects of nursing practice
  • Nursing theory, research issues, and practice
  • Nursing practice that pertains to patient care

Another way to get contact hours is by earning certifications from the ANCC. These certifications will give you ANCC-approved contact hours, which could also apply to the CEU requirements.

CEUs can’t just be loosely related to nursing

There are plenty of courses that are related to the field of nursing, but aren’t targeted enough to count as CEUs. Here are some examples:

  • Self-directed, independent study
  • Coursework that’s designed for lay people
  • Equipment- or job-related training
  • Agency-specific programs
  • College-level courses in music, art, or philosophy (those that aren’t related to patient care)
  • Refresher courses
  • Professional meetings, seminars, or conventions (unless they’ve been approved as CEU courses)
  • Courses completed within one renewal period that provide overlapping content
  • Orientation programs
  • Volunteer practice
  • PALS, ACLS, NALS, and other Advanced Skills Renewal Courses
  • Courses on attitude improvement, self-awareness, yoga, weight loss, or similar subjects
  • CPR training

CEUs and contact hours are not the same

If you hear someone using “CEU” and “contact hour” interchangeably, they may not know exactly what they’re talking about. This is because they’re two different things – one CEU is the same as 10 contact hours. If you look at each state’s CEU requirements, you’ll probably see them listing how many contact hours you need, rather than how many CEUs.

CEU requirements differ by state

Whether you’re looking at the number of contact hours required, the specified license renewal period, or the types of courses that are required, there’s a lot of information to keep up with. 

  • Of the 39 states that require CEUs, a lot of them fall within the 24 to 30 contact hour range. Washington is definitely the highest, requiring 45 contact hours.
  • The majority of the states specify a renewal period of 2 years, but that number can vary quite a lot. Some states only require nurses to complete continuing education units once after getting their nursing license.
  • Many of the states leave it up to the nurses to choose their own CEUs, but some of them specify how specific contact hours should be applied. For instance, a state may require that two contact hours cover domestic violence, and two of them cover substance abuse.

Your CEUs of choice should be relevant to your specialty

Continuing education for nurses doesn’t have to happen that often, but many nurses end up waiting until the very last minute before signing up for the courses they need. This leaves them with limited options, since they can only choose from what’s available to take immediately. They may also have to pick courses that can be completed quickly, especially if they’re just weeks away from the deadline.

This strategy usually leads to nurses taking CEUs based on convenience, not relevance or interest. It may get the job done, but you could do better. There are all kinds of CEUs out there, and if you take the time you need to find the ones you’d actually enjoy, you’d be benefiting from both the spirit and the letter of the law.

The takeaway

Being proactive is key. Find out what your state requires, sign up for courses that truly interest you, and plan to be done before the deadline. With that strategy, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the CEUs you need.