Continuing education is a requirement of working in healthcare, but as most clinicians know from personal experience, the system is a flawed one. The number of CEUs you must accrue each year depends on your certifications, not to mention they can be costly and not all employers pay for them.
Plus, there’s no research indicating the CE system is effective, says Nancy Dirubbo, DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, who started her own CE company, Beacon Continuing Education. And without that, figuring out what works best to next to impossible.
What’s wrong with the continuing education system?
Here are a few other confusing aspects of the system, according to Dirubbo.
You’re permitted to take courses for topics you like — not what you need.
It’s only natural that providers would choose to learn about topics that interest them since they’re doing so outside of work, Dirubbo says. The problem is that what you’re interested in may already be what you’re good at — and not what you need to improve upon.
The amount of experience you have does not affect the number of CEUs you need.
“Historically, boards of nursing required CEs to document minimal competency standards for practice to protect the public,” Dirubbo says. “If you think about that, then it makes sense that you need more CEs to renew your nursing license earlier in your career than later on.” However, this isn’t the case.
On-the-job training does not count toward CE.
When employees learn to use new equipment at their work, this process keeps them up-to-date on advancements in their specialty and helps them incorporate the latest information into their patients’ care, but it usually does not earn them CE.
The CE system is too focused on clinical work.
Dirubbo believes that areas like soft skills, professional advancement, writing, communication and business skills should be included in CE programs. Nursing schools don’t consistently prioritize these topics, but they’re crucial to working successfully in a healthcare environment.
Pharmacology hours are often required, no matter what role it plays in your daily practice.
Requiring a certain number of pharmacology CEs is standard, but according to Dirubbo, this is a misplaced emphasis. “For me to get re-certified through the ANCC [American Nurses Credentialing Center], I need to get a certain number of hours of pharm,” she explains. “But why is that more important than anything I do?”
The setting in which you work does not usually determine the amount of CE you need.
“There are RNs who practice very sophisticated nursing. If you’re an RN in an ICU, you have a lot of technical skills you need to keep up with,” Dirubbo says. “Things change a lot more quickly for them than for, say, an NP in a long-term care facility.” But the RN doesn’t necessarily need more CE.
The coursework isn’t usually designed with adult education in mind.
One of the biggest problems with CE is much of the time its creators don’t design the material to be engaging. As Dirubbo explains it, she started her own CE business because “much of what existed online is blah … It’s repurposed, recycled live formats that don’t take into consideration that learning live is different from recorded.”
As a result, Dirubbo’s classes, which rely on a combination of listening and writing, prioritize “confidence and self actualization,” she adds.
How can you get the most out of your CE requirements?
Even though the current CE system could use some improvement, with the right mindset, you can use it advance your career and hone your professional skills. Here’s how.
First, think about the 10 most common diagnoses you see, and make sure you feel confident in how you approach every single one. Then, identify situations from the past year where you felt totally baffled. Next, ask yourself what developments are coming down the pipeline in your specialty? What additional training do you need to fulfill your 10-year plan? These are all fodder for CE topic areas.
Seek out a mix of online and live experiences.
Even though conferences can be pricey and not all employers cover their cost, the networking and mentorship opportunities they provide can make them worthwhile. Plus, you might retain more information from live speakers than you would simply reading a screen or printed slide.
Do research about online programs before choosing one.
Online CE programs are necessary for healthcare professionals with limited time or financial resources. To maximize your online learning, ask your colleagues which programs they prefer, and consider trying CE companies that offer a freebie course before shelling out your hard-earned cash. Another tip? Look at the list of speakers to see if you’ve heard of them or if their expertise aligns with your interests.
Go outside your comfort zone.
Visit a region you’ve never been to or even a different country altogether. Learning with people from different backgrounds can widen your clinical expertise.
While some professional organizations, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, provide online systems for CE tracking, relying solely on them can be risky should technical difficulties arise. Try making a spreadsheet with different tabs for the CEUs needed for each of your certifications. You should also consider printing and storing hard copies that prove you’ve completed your annual requirements in case you get audited. After five years or so, you should be safe to throw them out.