Nursing Continuing Education: Importance, Options, and Resources for Getting Started

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A smiling nurse holding a digital tablet.

Becoming a nursing professional requires a strong educational foundation, whether working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a registered nurse (RN), or an advanced nurse leader. Success in any of these fields requires exposure to a range of clinical methodologies and best practices, providing nurses with all the skills required to diagnose patients, assist physicians, and manage care.

Once a nurse receives licensure, it hardly means that education is no longer important. To maintain licensure, nurses must pursue continuing education credits, keeping their skills sharp and their knowledge base current. Specific criteria for continuing education vary by state. Even nurses who don’t face rigorous continuing education requirements may still benefit from pursuing additional classwork and credits. Advanced education helps nursing professionals assume new roles and responsibilities, and ultimately move their careers forward.

Nursing continuing education is often specialty specific; for example, many states have unique educational requirements for nurses to maintain neonatal care certification and critical care certification.

Even nurses who don’t need continuing education hours can benefit from advanced training, which allows them to hone their skills and make themselves more competitive in the job market. These nurses are encouraged to consider online certificate programs, which can help expand their fields of knowledge and hone their clinical skills.

What Is the Impact of Continuing Education on Nursing Practice?

Continuing education is an important consideration for professional nurses, as most states require some level of continuing education for nursing licensure to be maintained. Additionally, continuing education helps nurses hone their skills, which may directly improve clinical outcomes for patients.

Maintaining Licensure

The majority of states require that working nurses obtain a certain number of continuing education hours every few years to renew their licenses. The specifics vary by state and by the level of licensure.

For example, consider how these states approach nursing continuing education:

  • The state of California requires that all nursing professionals, including LPNs, RNs, and nurse practitioners (NPs), receive 30 hours of advanced training every two years.
  • The state of Delaware requires that LPNs receive 24 hours of credits every two years, and RNs 30 hours. For NPs, it’s specified that at least three of their 30 hours be devoted to substance abuse training.
  • States such as Idaho, Indiana, and Maine don’t impose any continuing education requirements at all. Meanwhile, Maryland doesn’t formally require a set number of hours, but does require that inactive RNs take an approved “refresher” course before returning to practice.

These examples demonstrate the variability of continuing education requirements on a state-by-state basis. It should be reiterated that nurses who hold advanced or specialty certificates (e.g., a certification in neonatal care) may have additional continuing education requirements, again determined at the state level.

Improving Outcomes

The impact of continuing education on nursing practice isn’t just a matter of regulatory oversight. It can also have a direct impact on patient outcomes.

The medical field is constantly evolving, as new methodologies, technologies, and clinical guidelines are developed that can significantly improve quality of care. Such advances can lead to more positive patient outcomes, lower risks, and fewer side effects. They may also make it easier for nurses and physicians to diagnose problems early, intervene early, and ultimately save patient lives.

For these life-changing procedures and technologies to be effective, nurses must be properly educated on how to use them in service of improved patient outcomes. This is where continuing education plays an important role, helping nurses master methodologies they may not have had access to when they first entered the field.

Ample evidence suggests that nurse education levels have a direct impact on mortality rates as well as adverse event rates in acute care hospitals. For example, a study from the International Journal of Nursing Studies says that “evidence suggests that higher nurse education is associated with lower risks of mortality and failure to rescue,” recommending further study on the issue.

The Importance of Family Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education

While an RN or LPN might be stationed in a particular hospital department or health care practice, NPs often deliver care to a broader cross section of patients, including patients of all ages. Continuing education can provide the knowledge base and the skills required to diagnose, treat, and manage care across different demographics, from pediatric care through geriatric care.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education

Nurses and NPs who work in specialized fields often have unique continuing education requirements. PNPs are a prime example. Continuing education credits not only help PNPs to maintain their licenses, but they also ensure that these specialists provide high levels of care for children and adolescents.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education Requirements

Nurse practitioners who specialize in pediatric care may be required to pursue continuing education hours in order to renew their licenses. Again, the specific requirements vary from one state to the next. Note that, because this is a specialized field, many states will mandate not just a set number of hours, but potentially certain required topics or courses. Also note that the license renewal requirements for specialized fields can be rigorous; some states require PNPs to renew their licenses on an annual basis.

Topics in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education

PNPs attend to the medical needs of patients from birth through 21 years of age. They must be proficient in administering high standards of care; they may also need to inform, educate, and support parents as they make difficult health care decisions on behalf of their children.

To help prepare for these important functions, PNPs may have a number of specialized topics to explore through their continuing education credits. Some examples of topics specific to this field include the following:

  • Pediatric skin care, and treatment for babies, toddlers, or children with particular skin disorders
  • Pediatric pharmacology, focusing on the use of pharmaceutical intervention in minor age patients
  • Diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders in children, including learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and attention deficit disorder
  • Treatment and care for children who’ve sustained traumatic injuries, such as from accidents or collisions
  • Treatment for minors who’ve been victims of abuse or domestic violence

Through pediatric nurse practitioner continuing education, nursing professionals can develop the skills they need to focus on these and other important clinical fields.

Geriatric Nursing Continuing Education

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs), who work with adult patients into old age, also face unique educational requirements. It’s through geriatric nursing continuing education that NPs can develop the clinical skills needed to address the health concerns of aging populations.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Requirements

Those who wish to pursue a career as an AGNP can choose from a number of different certifications. Note that each of these certifications requires a baseline education in the nursing profession (ideally an MSN), and each comes with its own continuing education requirements for certification renewal.

  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a board certification for AGNPs that’s valid for five years, after which 75 continuing education hours are needed to renew it.
  • The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offers a primary care certification valid for adult-gerontology practice. Requirements include 40 to 50 credit hours, in addition to 500 to 600 hours of clinical practice.
  • The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers an acute care certificate with an adult-gerontology focus. This certificate can be obtained in different ways, through combinations of continuing credit hours (up to 150), clinical practice, and completion of an exam.

Some NPs may choose to hold more than one of these certifications, making them even more marketable job candidates. Also note that practice as an AGNP may entail meeting state-level requirements; specific licensing requirements are different from one state to the next.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Topics

Those who work in this field are required to provide care for grown-ups of all ages, from those just past college age through middle age and into their geriatric years. As such, a number of topics may be considered a part of the continuing education process. Some examples include the following:

  • Sociological, political, and economic insights into aging
  • Mental health concerns relating to older people, such as memory loss and dementia
  • Signs of elder abuse and neglect
  • Diagnosis and management of chronic conditions
  • Candid discussion of end-of-life issues

By building a knowledge base that encompasses these subjects, NPs can become better equipped to prepare effective medical care for patients of all ages.

Prepare for a Lifetime of Quality Care Delivery

Through a lifetime commitment to learning, and specifically through obtaining advanced education credits, nurses and NPs can prepare themselves for delivering the best patient outcomes and the highest levels of care. Additionally, they can help position themselves for career advancement and for higher levels of professional responsibility, including ascent into nurse leadership roles.

One of the best options for nurses who want to advance their careers and hone their skills is enrollment in an online certificate program. Regis College’s online post-master’s certificates provide a number of ways for NPs to develop specialized practices, and ultimately to become more marketable job candidates. The five certificate programs available include the following:

  • Pediatrics. In this program, students can pursue their credentials as PNPs, and develop skills in providing pediatric care in a primary care setting.
  • Family. This program lays the groundwork for becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP), covering a range of issues related to primary care, diagnosis, and treatment for patients of all ages.
  • Psychiatric mental health. This certification is designed for those who wish to become NPs in a mental health or substance abuse setting. It covers a number of methodologies related to contemporary psychotherapy.
  • Women’s health. This certification program focuses on women’s health concerns, including reproductive health.
  • Adult-gerontology. In this program, students prepare for success as AGNPs and learn about health care delivery for a full spectrum of adult patients, including eldercare.

Learn more about the post-master’s certificate programs that will help you pursue your nursing goals. Connect with Regis College to learn about their online certificate options.

Recommended Readings

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: What’s the Difference?

What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

How to Become a Mental Health Nurse


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, Certification Benefits Patients, Employers and Nurses

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, CE Opportunities

California Board of Registered Nursing, Continuing Education for License Renewal

Houston Chronicle, “The Importance of Continuing Professional Education and Certification for a Nurse Leader”

Lippincott Nursing Solutions, Why You Should Pursue Lifelong Learning

Medscape, State CE Requirements for Nurses

ScienceDirect, “Associations Between Nurse Education and Experience and the Risk of Mortality and Adverse Events in Acute Care Hospitals: A Systematic Review of Observational Studies”