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Nurse Practitioners: Continuing Education Options & Requirements

Continuing education is required for certified nurse practitioners. Get some quick facts about the qualifications necessary to obtain and maintain certification, as well as job growth and salary info.

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Nurse practitioners must complete continuing education hours based upon the specific requirements of their state. The number of required continuing education hours is much higher for some states than others.

Essential Information

Continuing Education (CE) is required for all nurse practitioners in order to maintain their license. The specific requirements vary, but most states do not stipulate additional CE beyond what is required to maintain national certification, e.g. by entities such as the AANPCP (American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program) and the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center), which must be renewed every 5 years.

Credentialing by the ANCC is available to any registered nurse (RN). Credentialing by the AANPCP is available to any RN with an active APN (advanced practice nurse) license. For certification by the ANCC and AANPCP, applicants must have completed 1000 hours of clinical practice and 75 hours of approved CE within the preceding 5 years. For NP's specifically, to maintain AANPCP certification, 25 of those hours must be pharmacology credits (since NP's can prescribe medications). Some states also require pharmacology CE in addition to national certification, or other variations of contact and practice hour requirements.

Required Education 75 contact hours of continuing education (25 from pharmacology) over 5 years
Required Clinical Practice 1000 practice hours in preceding 5 years
Continuing Education Options Approved coursework (online and in person), seminars, conferences, research, presentations, and more
Exam Requirements Optional exams can be taken in lieu of other requirements
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 35% for nurse practitioners*
Average Salary (2015) $101,260 for nurse practitioners*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is Continuing Education?

Continuing education (CE) refers to courses and occupational development programs that nurse practitioners take to enhance nursing knowledge and proficiency. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) uses the term 'contact hour' to represent one CE credit (www.aanp.org). One contact hour can be earned with 60 minutes of instruction. A contact hour should not be confused with a 'continuing education unit,' which equals about ten contact hours.

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Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education Options

Nurse practitioners may earn contact hours through a variety of CE programs. Review seminars, study groups and web courses prepare them for certification exams by providing study techniques and practical application training. Similarly, review manuals are certification exam preparation materials that help practical nurses apply critical thinking. Nurse practitioners may have to complete further independent study and pay additional fees to earn contact hours for review manual programs.

Nurse practitioners may also earn contact hours by attending annual symposiums that focus on CE accreditation trends and developments. The American Nurses Credential Center (ANCC) provides courses focused around its Pathway to Excellence program, which awards professional designation to quality healthcare organizations (www.nursecredentialing.org). Through workshops and study groups, nurses learn about Pathway to Excellence practices and application process. Additional CE programs may also be offered in digital, monograph and various publication formats.

Continuing Education Accreditation Boards

Nurse practitioners should ensure that CE programs are accredited by state nursing boards or nationally accepted accrediting bodies. AANP-accredited programs, for example, meet the CE requirements of all state nursing boards. The AANP also offer several of its own CE programs. Similarly, the ANCC-accredited programs are accepted by most state licensing boards.

Nurse Practitioner Continuing Education Requirements

Some states require nurse practitioners to fulfill a minimum number of CE credits within a designated time period to renew licensure. These requirements vary according to the state's board of nursing. California, for example, requires nurses to complete 30 contact hours every two years. In Oregon, on the other hand, license renewal entails 100 contact hours every two years. The ANCC requires nurse practitioners to renew licensure every five years by fulfilling 150 contact hours, of which at least 25 must focus on pharmacology.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for nurse practitioners will increase by 35% between 2014 and 2024. Additionally, the BLS reported that the average annual salary for nurse practitioners was $101,260 in May, 2015.

Nurse practitioners must complete continuing education hours based upon the specific requirements of their state. California, for example, requires 30 contact hours every two years, while Oregon requires 100 contact hours in that time frame. Coursework is typically available both online and in person offering flexibility and numerous content options.

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