BY ELIZABETH HANINK, RN, BSN, PHN
How do you approach continuing education? Do you seek out courses that will truly enhance your skills as a practitioner? Or do you simply look around a week before the renewal deadline and pick an online course you think you can complete in a short amount of time? Is price a deciding factor for you — getting the most hours for the lowest cost or only considering courses offered for free at the most convenient facility?
We have all probably fallen into several of the above practices at one time or another. While California’s requirement of 30 CEUs per year can hardly be considered onerous, somehow continuing education falls to the bottom of our lists of priorities. Also, some courses are very expensive. Often, a single day at a seminar that offers 7.5 contact hours will run over $200. With the increase in license fees — now $140 — it is quite possible to spend a hefty chunk of money just keeping your license current. Nonetheless, there is real value in many of the courses offered, and we owe it to ourselves to make the most of our continuing education. ➲
Research the Providers
Because the Board of Registered Nursing certifies course providers, not individual courses, the key is to look for a good provider, either one you know from past experience or one that comes recommended.
Courses generally need to be related to either direct or indirect client or patient care, like patient education strategies, cultural and ethnic diversity or skills courses like stoma care. Indirect patient care may include courses in nursing administration, quality assurance and nurse retention, as well as instructor courses for CPR, BLS or ALS.
You can find good courses in any of several formats:
Online: There are wonderful online companies that offer excellent material and the advantages of time flexibility and low cost. California is very generous in allowing all 30 required hours to be completed online; not all states are as accommodating. Almost every online course offers the option of a hardcopy text if you want it, and buying one for a few extra dollars is a good, inexpensive way to build up a reference library. Many online courses also offer the option of retaking the final test several times over a lengthy period (although I have never come across a continuing education test that was even remotely difficult). Several courses also offer a webinar component that allows for greater participation. Virtually all professional organizations offer online courses to their members.
All-day sessions: Usually taught by an expert in a particular field, these classes do not offer as much flexibility or as low a cost as online courses, but can be much more rewarding. Many all-day courses are very hands-on, with tons of take-home material and opportunities to ask the instructor questions — a luxury rarely afforded by online courses. Many all-day sessions target nurses in a particular practice area and presume a certain amount of basic knowledge of the subject matter. (All continuing education courses require that the information provided be above and beyond that required for licensure.)
Fun classes: Some courses promise entertainment, as well as education. Trips to resorts and cruises come to mind, offering sun, scenery, shows and good food — and learning, to boot. Who wouldn’t like that? This is, of course, the most costly option you can choose, but it might be a good way to combine work with pleasure.
Staying Close to Home
Your employer can be a very good source for a wide variety of continuing education programs. These courses are often free to employees and inexpensive for others. Sometimes sponsored by medical equipment vendors or drug companies, many classes of this type are short-term and highly specific. Very often, supervisors are quite accommodating about scheduling if the class is offered in-house — especially if the class is directly related to the care you give. Cross-disciplinary offerings are frequent in hospital settings, and as long as the class is Category I, you can even take courses directed at the medical staff.
Nurses often make the mistake of thinking that if an instructor is local, he or she has nothing useful to say. But you might be surprised at the credentials of some of your fellow employees. Both day-long and short lunch-hour seminars can be a boon to your professional development and easy ways to rack up the CE hours.
As you look for courses to take, don’t forget these essential BRN requirements:
• You cannot take courses designed for nonprofessionals or that focus primarily on self-improvement, like weight reduction or yoga (although some stress-management courses are allowed).
• Providers cannot allow for partial credit, although it is acceptable to break up multiple-day seminars into separate offerings, each with separate CE hours. Staying for only half the day will not cut it.
• If you take a course in California, it must have a California BRN provider number. If taken out of state, courses offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center are acceptable, as are out-of-state courses offered by providers approved in another state — as long as the course are taken outside of California.
Exceptions to the Rule
The board also excuses certain licensees from needing to accrue CEUs:
• Advanced degree candidates: If you are in the process of obtaining a higher degree, you can count some of your academic courses toward your CE requirement using the following equation: one semester unit equals 15 CEUs, one quarter unit equals 10 CEUs.
• Hardship or disability: You may also be excused from some or all of your continuing education requirement if you can prove a personal hardship, such as a physical disability last more than a year, or if you are solely responsible for a totally disabled family member for more than a year.
• Practicing outside California: If you are employed by a federal agency or in military service and are practicing outside of California, you can maintain your license without CEUs (although those organizations usually have their own requirements).
Not working right now, but want to maintain an active license? You will need the CEUs, just like everyone else. But you can also choose inactive status; if you go on inactive status and then resume active status within eight years, you will only need 30 contact hours in total to be reinstated.
Don’t forget: It is not enough to take the course and earn the hours. You must retain proof of completion for at least four years, just in case you are one of the randomly selected nurses whose CEUs the BRN decides to audit and verify.
Whatever your individual circumstances, don’t waste this opportunity for career growth. Choose your courses wisely and try to avoid having to select your CE hours based on expediency. This is the only post-licensure education some nurses will receive. Get as much as you can.
The California Board of Registered Nursing website