Learning does not stop with a diploma. To function optimally as patient advocates, practicing nurses want and need to maintain currency and relevance in an ever-changing clinical world. Continuing education comes in many different and creative forms to meet the needs of diverse nurse learners. Conferences, hands-on courses, seminars, webinars, and self-study modules are just a few of the methods used to assist nurses in meeting their personal education goals and fulfilling the requirements for maintaining licensure and certification. Furthermore, nurses may partake in independent reading or view instructional material as part of their everyday practice. With so many opportunities now available to nurses, including many from “for-profit” organizations, how can nurses decide between the many options available for lifelong learning? In considering continuing education opportunities, there are a variety of factors that a nurse can weigh to determine whether the opportunity has enough value to justify its time and expense.
SORTING THROUGH THE TERMS
There are many terms associated with the “measurement” of continuing education value for nurses. The terms continuing education unit, contact hour, CE hour, CE credit, and CEU tend to be used interchangeably, although there are important differences. The Joint Commission (www.jcinc.com) provides the following guidance to nurses for evaluating marketing materials:
- Contact hour: This is the amount of “seat time” or “learning time” that has been approved for a specific educational program. Nursing contact hours usually are reported as “CNE” (continuing nursing education) credits.
- Credit hour (CNE or CME): This is the amount of “seat time” or “learning time” that has been approved for a specific educational program. Physician credit hours usually are reported as “CME” (continuing medical education) credits, although these credits commonly are accepted for fulfilling nursing (especially advanced practice nursing) requirements.
- Continuing education unit (CEU): This is an oft-misused term in continuing education. The term primarily is used in academic settings as a designation of course time, where 1 hour is equal to 0.10 CEUs. This division by 10 means that 10 hours of instruction (or participation) is equal to 1 CEU. If the term CEU used, it always should contain the decimal point to show the fraction of hours. CEU is a generic reference that can apply to any continuing education activities.
PERCEPTIONS: MANDATORY REQUIREMENT OR PERSONAL GROWTH?
Although the true benefit of continuing education is the opportunity it presents for personal growth, to further one's profession and to build a stronger foundation for the future, continuing education still is perceived as a “requirement” for many nurses. Many states and professional organizations have minimum continuing professional education obligations that must be met by nurses. National certification maintenance also requires continuing professional education. In some cases, a specific course may meet the requirements for a national organization but may not be acceptable to the guidelines of the state. Furthermore, there often are employer-specific or state-mandated courses that must be completed.
It is important to remember that there are benefits to pursuing continuing education that extend well beyond fulfilling professional obligations. Staying current in evidence-based practices can help nurses provide safe and quality patient care and mitigate legal risks and may even support promotion, increased pay, or participation in exclusive workgroups. Educational opportunities also commonly are entwined with professional networking opportunities, whereby nurses can connect with other providers for informal learning and social experiences. Importantly, continuing education is an oft-cited basis for personal and professional satisfaction.
NANN SUPPORTS ITS MEMBERS AS LIFELONG LEARNERS
NANN is committed to providing neonatal nurses with the resources they need to be lifelong learners by combining many creative educational strategies with relevant and current contents to meet the unique and focused needs of its provider audience (http://nann.org/education/educational-products). NANN's clinical practice publications are a suite of books, reference guides, standard manuals, reference cards, and other publications designed to support nurses by providing a foundation for evidence-based practice. Numerous online modules, including more than 25 developmental different care modules, 10 core content modules, and certification review modules, offer nurses CNE credits for targeted learning. Live webinars are offered with frequency, supporting interactive distance learning.
NANN'S 33RD ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Perhaps most popular of NANN's learning resources, however, is its annual conference. Not only does the conference offer an opportunity for learners to interact with dozens of neonatal and related experts who present content across a broad spectrum but it also supports networking among providers and provides nurses the opportunity to explore many new products and services in a robust exhibit hall. This year, NANN is hosting its 33rd Annual Conference at the Rhode Island Convention Center (http://nann.org/education/annual-meeting). We hope that you will join us in October at the annual conference, as NANN continues to support you in your quest for lifelong learning!