Required or inspired: Continuing education courses key to lifelong learning

Although continuing education courses aren’t required in Maryland, Suburban Hospital still covers up to $500 for education related to nurses’ specialty certifications.

“This can include a prep course for the certification, continuing education to maintain the certification, or even the cost of the certification exam itself,” said Theresa Mazzaro, RN, CHCR, senior talent acquisition specialist at Suburban Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Bethesda. “We also include in this reimbursement amount for any educational opportunity that is directly related to their specific role within the hospital (could be a conference that offers continuing education).”

Helping to cover the cost of continuing education is an important employer benefit and a win-win for not only nurses but also the institutions for which they work, according to Mazzaro.

“For our nurses, just knowing that they have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow in their profession speaks volumes for the hospital that provides these opportunities,” she said.

The state of mandatory continuing education

As of December 2018, 42 states required continuing education courses for RN license renewal, according to our resource on nursing continuing education requirements by state. Colorado and Arizona are among the states that don’t require RNs to complete continuing education hours before renewing their licenses.

Employer reimbursement for continuing education is a common benefit, but it’s by no means universal.

According to our 2018 Nursing Salary Research Report, 39% of the 4,520 nurses nationwide responding to our salary survey indicated they received reimbursement or paid continuing education as an employer benefit. About 1,276 respondents noted they received an average of $2,619 in continuing education reimbursement per year.

Continuing education requirements vary by state. Nursing boards and states regulating themselves for continuing education requirements, according to Maria Morales, MSN, RN, CPAN, director of clinical education at OnCourse Learning Healthcare, a Relias company.

One trend among states is continuing education is more topic specific than in the past. States focus on timely topics such as pain management and human trafficking, according to Robert Hess, PhD, RN, FAAN, who has since retired from

For example, RNs in Florida must complete 24 hours of continuing education courses during each renewal period, including two hours relating to prevention of medical errors. In addition to the 24 hours of general continuing education required, RNs in the state must complete two hours of domestic violence continuing education every third renewal for a total of 26 hours.

“Continuing education is something that nurses can use to demonstrate they stay current,” Hess said. “The other aspect of CE is for all the hospitals that might want to become Magnet or want to stay Magnet, there’s a CE provision that a certain percentage of nurses have to be certified within their specialty. And to get re-certified most people don’t retake the test, they do it by continuing education.”

Continuing education is essential beyond license renewal

More nurses are certified than in the past, which propels a greater need for continuing education, Hess said.

Overall, 40% of RNs surveyed in our salary report stated they were professionally certified.

Yet another reason for the need for continuing education — a hospital’s status.

Hospitals certified in acute stroke care, for example, might require nurses to complete continuing education tied to the hospital’s status, according to Hess, who, as founder of Shared Governance, accredits hospitals that demonstrate a commitment to shared governance.

The future of continuing education might look different than it does today, according to Hess.

“We had been talking about this for ANCC for years,” said Hess, who was part of a think tank at the American Nurses Credentialing Center that looked at continuing education without time as a metric. “When I was vice chair of the Commission on Accreditation eight years ago, we were talking about how it would be nice to have meaningful continuing education that’s based on competency instead of hours. ANCC moved on this and is actually accepting these from a few accredited CE providers. One day people will not be taking continuing education and measuring it by hours.”

Regardless of how continuing education is completed or whether it’s mandatory, lifelong learning is an important concept in the nursing profession and healthcare quality, according to Morales.

“We want healthcare workers to stay informed about the latest evidence-based practice and knowledge, the latest standards in the field and research, so that they can provide quality care,” Morales said. “Continuing education is very important for staying current in one’s knowledge and practice. Employers may find that the more they invest in supporting learning, training, professional development and continuing education, a higher quality of worker and care may result. It’s important to make time for learning. If an employer offers continuing education benefits but makes it hard for the learner to have any time to actually complete coursework, then the full benefit may not be seen.”

Find out more about resources available to nurses for continuing education in our digital edition!

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