I recently renewed my family nurse practitioner credential (FNP-BC) for the first time since successfully sitting for the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) national board certification exam 5 years ago. I’ve always loved the idea of lifelong learning, and while I have benefited from leveraging continuing education to enhance my professional development, I’ll admit I’ve been frustrated with the level of detail and complexity involved in maintaining my professional credentials.
While reflecting on what I can do, moving forward, to streamline my own overall license and credential renewal process, I came up with a list of things I wish someone had told me about continuing education and maintaining my professional licenses and credentials.
Maintaining those hard-earned professional licenses and credentials requires a bit more than just taking a bunch of continuing education courses (CEs)—you’ll need to develop strategies and tactics for yourself in three categories: 1) knowing your renewal requirements; 2) managing your time and money; and 3) maintaining accurate records.
In this first article of a 3-part series, I’ll share my view on why knowing your continuing education requirements is more complex than it seems on the surface. Requirements can change, certain CEs may not be recognized at all or in full, and not all types of CE credits convert to the number of hours you may expect. The complexity intensifies when you hold multiple licenses and credentials.
You already know that continuing education and license renewal requirements vary by state, type of license, and credential. But did you know that your continuing education and certification renewal requirements are likely to change over time? Yes, credentialing bodies are constantly reviewing and revising their renewal criteria.
It’s up to you to stay on top of these changes. First, be sure to get your information straight from the credentialing agency instead of relying on world-of-mouth information. Don’t depend on what your professors told you, what your classmates said, or what your colleagues discussed in the break room. Use what you’ve heard as a launching pad to conduct your own research: Go to the source and see it for yourself in writing.
Second, build an ongoing plan for staying aware of changes. This means checking in with your licensing or credentialing organization periodically. Professional organizations can provide a gateway to finding out about these changes. Another way is to bookmark your credentialing bodies’ renewal criteria pages and check them routinely. Of course, this doesn’t work unless you actually remember to go and check the sites. I was amazed at how many of the criteria for my FNP board certification changed significantly during my 5-year renewal period.
Know What Counts
Not every continuing education activity you do will count for every license or credential renewal requirement you need to fulfill. (I know, right?!) Ideally, any continuing education credit you earn would be applicable cross the board, but that’s not always the case.
Some CEs may not be recognized in full or at all by every credentialing agency. For example, the ANCC only recognizes 50 percent of the credit earned from providers not approved by the ANCC, and the California Board of Registered Nursing (CA BRN) only recognizes CE earned through CA BRN-approved providers. So, if I earn CE credits from a provider that is not recognized by the ANCC or the CA BRN, only half of those hours will count toward renewal of my FNP-BC, and none those hours will not count toward renewal of my state licenses.
Conclusion? Before I enroll in a CE opportunity, I check to see if the provider is honored by the ANCC and the CA BRN. Being aware of this ahead of time helps me make savvy CE choices, and keeps me from being disappointed, frustrated, or panicked at renewal time.
Some credentialing bodies allow professional activities other than CE courses to count toward license and/or credential renewal. For example, hours spent in clinical practice, precepting students, volunteering, making presentations, earning an advanced degree, or doing research can all count toward renewing my FNP-BC board certification if documented correctly. But, unfortunately, none of those things except taking academic nursing courses would count toward renewing my CA RN license.
Knowing your requirements also means paying attention to the specific subject matter covered in the CE opportunity. For example, I need 75 continuing education hours every 5 years to renew my FNP board certification through ANCC and 25 of those must be specific for pharmacology. With this kind of specificity, the key is to make sure I earn enough pharmacology-specific hours to meet the pharmacology requirement. This can be tricky to track because some CE courses offer only a portion of the total hours as pharmacology-specific. For example, a CE course may offer 2 hours of total credit, but only 0.5 hours of that time counts as pharm-specific.
Do The Math
Closely related to the idea that not every CE credit you earn will count toward the renewal of every license or credential you hold, is the idea that the credits themselves are counted differently depending on who’s providing and who’s counting. The takeaway is: Know how ahead of time how each of your particular credentialing bodies recognizes, calculates, and converts CE hours.
Admittedly, counting CE hours can be confusing. Descriptive words are a tip-off to how the calculations may vary. Various providers offer “contact hours,” “continuing education units (CEUs),” or “continuing medical education (CME).” Words matter because they are not all calculated or recognized the same way. The ANCC offers a conversion formula: 1 contact hour = 1 CME or 0.1 CEU or 60 minutes; 1 CEU = 10 contact hours. Make sure you know the conversion formula that is being used by your credentialing body.
Be aware that any algorithms embedded in online renewal or CE tracking applications should include consistent conversion calculations, but they may not always be accurate. The bottom line: Do your own math and double-check it. Being aware of this and knowing how to count your credits will help you decide which CE opportunities are right for you and prevent the worst-case scenarios of coming up short at renewal time or during an audit.
Ultimately, continuing education benefits both you and the patients you serve. However, I wish someone had told me, back in the day, that “knowing your requirements” involves in-depth proactive thought and planning, especially when you hold multiple licenses and credentials. My intention in sharing this is to help you streamline your own personal continuing education strategy.
In Part 2, I’ll share my thoughts managing your time and money to keep continuing education from breaking the bank.
Meanwhile, here’s a question: What do you wish you’d known about continuing education before you embarked on the adventure yourself?
Sources and Resources
5 Reasons to Invest in Continuing Education
ANCC 2017 Certification Renewal Requirements
Continuing Education for License Renewal