Don’t Fall Behind: The Importance of Continuing Education for Nurses

You have your nursing degree and you’re employed so you’re done with school, right? Wrong. . . you still have to get some time in/on the books throughout your career. These are called continuing education hours.

If we didn’t have these, some doctors would still be pulling babies out of the womb with forceps – a practice we know to damage skull tissue, if not the whole brain.

Continuing education hours give us a chance to stay up to date and to learn things about a sector we don’t usually work in. Even if you’re an ER nurse, you could take a course about radiology, or even on delivering babies.

These continuing education hours can be done online, and they’re mandatory, by the state. Each state differs in requirements, but they all understand the importance of continuing education.

Want to learn more about what you need to do (for example check out this list of LPN responsibilities), what you can study, and how to do it online? Read below.

The Importance of Continuing Education

The biggest benefit of continuing education that’s also the worst part of not doing it is – you get to keep your job! States can and will not renew your nursing license or they’ll revoke if you don’t complete their requirements.

We know that nursing hours can be rough, but you want to keep your job, right? We thought so.

There are a few states that don’t require CE’s (continuing education credits, referred to as CE’s or CEC’s) but assume you’re not living in one.

We’ll look at a few different state requirements later.

You’ll Get Smarter

There’s a quote that says when you stop learning you start dying. Albert Einstein said that, and we know he’d be in support of nursing CEC’s.

But it’s not just a statement, it’s a true fact. Your brain is very use-it-or-lose when it comes to brain cells. The more you learn and keep your brain active, the longer you can put off things like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Think about when you took Spanish in high school. You could probably at least hold a low-level conversation then, but now? Adios Spanish vocabulary!

That’s not just you. It’s a neurological process called synaptic pruning, which starts when you’re about two years old and carries out through life. Your brain every so often Marie Kondo’s itself.

Instead of asking if it sparks joy, it asks, do I still use this? If not, it’s deemed unneeded and the brain essentially deletes the information.

Synaptic pruning is part of what we think leads to grey matter in the brain, which we see in patients with memory illnesses or loss.

Keep learning so your brain doesn’t turn grey, today!

It Can Get You a Raise

We can’t promise this, but most employers will take education into consideration at your yearly review. They may even pay for your continuing education courses if you’re lucky.

And those that take advantage of CEC’s or go above and beyond can get a pay raise. It may not be much, but cents absolutely add up.

You may even get transferred to a new department or get the chance to take on new tasks/roles. Your employer likes to see you improving yourself and becoming a better employee. It’s good for you, them, and your joint patients.

It’s Better for Patients

Let’s take a quick look back through medical history. A hundred and fifty so years ago, they didn’t understand the idea of cross-contamination.

They would go from one infected patient’s surgery to another patient, who may just have a small issue – using the same unwashed tools.

Those doctors could have used some CE’s once they figured out the whole “we need to sterilize these” thing.

And the same with forceps. In very rare conditions doctors will grab the baby with forceps, but they try not to anymore. It can damage the skull and even the brain.

Do you know why people don’t yank babies out with forceps anymore? Because the doctors who used to do that learned it was the bad practice when they were given new, up-to-date information.

We know you’re not pulling babies with forceps and you always make sure tools get sterilized, but are you really reading those boring medical journals?

We didn’t think so. They’re so dry – we get it. But you need to stay up on the news somehow, hence, your continuing education courses.

It Sets an Example

Finally, taking your CEC’s seriously and making time for them sets you up as a leader in your group. We all know that nurse that seems to hate their job, even though they choose this field not too long ago.

You can’t motivate them to come to work smiling, but maybe they’re not in the right nursing sub-field. Doing assorted CEC’s could help them find the right niche.

And it gets their negative energy out of your hair – just saying.

Different States, Different Requirements

We don’t have time to go into the requirements for every one of the fifty states here, but we’ve picked five or so for example’s sake.

Most of the CEC hours required range between 20-30, with 25 as the average.

These are over two years in most cases, so that’s only about 12 hours a year or one hour a month. You can do that, we promise.

Alaska has some of the stricter regulations, at 30 hours every two years. Some of those hours have to be in courses recognized or put on by the state, depending on the type of nursing you do.

Florida requires you to do 24 hours every two years, and they have some specific courses. Of those twenty-four hours, at least two of them have to be related to medical error prevention.

Two have to be laws and rules and 2 more are about recognizing human trafficking signs. There are more, but we’ll leave it there.

Oregon requires 45 hours of CE’s which is one of the highest amounts in the states. However, this is only for APRN’s, who have a higher-level degree more advanced scope of practice.

What Kind of CEC’s Can You Take?

If your state has requirements about the types of CEC’s you have to take – the mandatory courses are usually only a few of the required hours.

We talked about how nurses in Florida have to take a course that teaches them how to recognize human trafficking victims. They also have to take a course about preventing medical errors, which we know leads to wrongful deaths (even with no bad intentions).

However – the rest of the hours are up to you. If you’re looking to move up or just move departments, you can start taking your CE’s in that area years before you’re ready to switch.

There’s pretty much no medical subject you can’t study online. There are sites like Scrubs Continuing Education that have courses about radiology and at least 20 other things.

There are even free CEC’s online that you can take. Some of them are very medical, like going over sepsis and how to prevent it.

But others are more sociological, like how to recognize substance abuse early before it gets out of hand. Or understanding how to handle it when patients are taking the meds in a non-authorized way.

Many nurses are now taking courses on how to talk to patients about painkillers, with the opioid epidemic being what it is.

But those are all about other people and patients. Want something for you? You can find that as well. Take a course on how to maximize energy and sleep even when you get the worst shifts every single rotation.

Want to know how to rise up the nursing ladder? You can find a course on that too.

A great way to find interesting courses is to ask your fellow nurses or supervisor for recommendations. Remember that you can do these hours over the course of two years, so you don’t have to look for ones that are “easy” or “quick”.

But if you don’t pay attention, those two years will pass by quickly and you’ll find yourself rushing to get all your hours in. You definitely don’t have time for that!

How to Work and Learn, Without Going Crazy

We know that you’re busy and that you’re balancing 10 other things, besides what you balance at work. But you also understand the importance of continuing education and what it means for both you and your patients.

Schedule your courses early and scattered throughout the year. So you don’t end up trying to get them all done in one month. That’s our best advice!

Are you already trying to work on your CEC’s but getting distracted?

Dragan Sutevski

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan