This final installment of the 3-part “What I Wish I’d Known About Continuing Education,” series addresses the value of record keeping. Part 1 of this series addressed why knowing the details of your license and credential renewal requirements is so important. Part 2 set forth some ideas for how to manage your time and money to keep continuing education (CE) from breaking the bank.
How do you keep track of your CE accomplishments? A file folder? A desk drawer? A mandated tracker app or online database? Whatever system you’re using now, it’s a good idea to take a second look, and ask yourself what else you might need to do.
CE record keeping is necessary for all nurses and licensed medical professionals, but it’s especially relevant for advanced practice nurses, nurses with multiple credentials and specialties, nurses who maintain licenses in multiple states, and nurses who are changing employers or relocating to a different state. As a board-certified family nurse practitioner with specialty credentials, I’m meticulous about maintaining my own CE records for three main reasons: 1) accuracy and completeness; 2) safety; and 3) comprehensive, ongoing proof of meeting and exceeding requirements.
Keep your own records for accuracy and completeness.
Many credentialing agencies and some state licensing boards require specific online app-driven databases to help you maintain a running total of continuing education credits as you earn them. At first, this may sound like an ideal one-stop solution. But, if you rely on a single agency-sponsored online database as your only record of the CE credits you’ve earned, you run the risk of losing data, coming up short at renewal time, scrambling to prove you’ve met an employer’s requirements, or panicking during an audit.
My preferred method
Keeping my own records allows me the ultimate control to preserve relevant data and distribute it appropriately. I use a Microsoft Word (Word) table that contains relevant information for each credential or license but you could just as easily use an Excel spreadsheet or any other format you like. Working in Word gives me the flexibility to capture details like descriptions of courses. From my “master” document, I can easily enter accurate, specific, data into the appropriate platforms as needed. I have yet to find an e-platform that comprehensively records all the specific data I’m required to record while seamlessly integrating with other platforms. If you know of one, please share!
Different credentialing bodies require different information about each CE experience. As such, any online database that supports an agency is customized to meet that agency’s specific requirements. So, if you rely on a single agency’s platform to capture your data, such as a mandated tracking app, that one database may not be gathering all the details a different credentialing body may require. For example, one of my agencies requires me to record the date, title, and agency-specific provider approval number for each CE experience. Another agency requires date, title, and a content-oriented course description for each learning experience. If I rely only on one of those databases for my CE record keeping, necessary information will be lost.
As discussed in Part 1, a single CE experience may not be counted the same by every credentialing body. Not only that, but there may be specialty hours allocations embedded within an individual CE credit total. I recently took a CE course where 6.2 of the 12 total CE hours were specific to pharmacology. While one of my credentialing agencies is only concerned with total CE’s, another requires me to tally a pharmacology-specific total in addition to a grand total. Keeping my own records allows me to track the details accurately and helps me meet my pharmacology-specific CE requirements on time.
Inconsistencies across digital database fields from platform to platform are common. And some online databases may not allow entries beyond what is required, and you don’t want to lose track of anything extra you earn. At the time of my most recent board-certification renewal, the ANCC online data-entry portal would not allow additional entries to be made after the required total of 75 hours had been entered, despite the fact that the entered total did not include the required pharmacology-specific subtotal. Ultimately, submitting my data in hard-copy form was the solution.
Here’s an additional side-note for advanced practice nurses: In some cases, certain professional activities other than earning continuing education credits may count toward credential renewal. For example, hours spent in practice, time spent volunteering, clinical hours precepting students, making presentations, earning an advanced degree, or doing research can all count toward renewing my FNP-BC board certification. Documentation of these activities is crucial, and keeping my own CE records consolidates this necessary task.
Back up your records for safety.
Keeping your own records won’t do you any good if you don’t keep them safe. I recommend keeping a hard copy, a digital backup, and a cloud-based digital backup. Ideally, your digital backups include images of your hard-copy certificates to mitigate against unforeseen circumstances.
Your backups will save you a lot of headaches, especially in the unfortunate event of theft or disaster. Over the last 5 years, I’ve experienced data losses from the threat of natural disaster and due to theft. My emergency evacuation experience during the California wildfires reinforced the necessity of maintaining up-to-date digital copies of all my hard-copy CE certificates. And when my vehicle was broken into and both my laptop and backup drive were stolen, I realized the value of storing data in the cloud. Those of us who were born before the Internet sometimes need reminders!
My efforts to keep a comprehensive, chronological record of CEs for myself have been helpful. Preserving original proof of completion for every continuing education credit you earn not only makes transferring data across credentialing organizations easier, it will serve you well in case of an audit. I was audited during a routine renewal of my California RN license, but because I had a system in place for preserving my original CE certificates, submitting the additional information the audit required was a simple, quick, and painless process.
Plan to exceed minimum requirements.
More is better when it comes to CE credits: The last thing you want to do is come up short at renewal time. It’s good practice to plan for a few extra credits. Keeping your own records offers comprehensive proof that you’ve met and exceeded minimum requirements.
My policy of doing more than the necessary minimum has served me well on more than one occasion when minimum requirements changed during the renewal period. Having a few extra credits “in the bank” allowed me to fulfill my renewal requirements on time with zero stress. It also can be a lifesaver if you accidentally miscalculate your total hours, if your agency stops accepting credits offered by a particular provider, or if you relocate to a new state or different employer situation where requirements are different than what you’re used to.
My gold and silver rules of continuing education
With all this in mind, here’s my “golden rule” of continuing education: Never pass up a chance to earn a CE. If your employer offers free continuing education opportunities, try to make the time to attend, even if it’s not your favorite topic. Free is free and CE is CE.
And my “silver rule" is this: Make sure you get credit for whatever you sit through. Be aware that electronic records are not failsafe. Sometimes that convenient nametag scanner at the conference doesn’t work properly. Or the automatic save from the online course you just took didn’t link to your mandated database as promised. Follow up. Print the proof. And if there’s a glitch, stay on top of it until you have proof of your CE credit in hand.
In summary, you can take control of your CEs by keeping your own records. When you’re in charge, you won’t have to worry about malfunctioning electronics, natural disasters, theft, or other unforeseen circumstance. Make sure you have a comprehensive and accurate way to track your CEs. Make backups in multiple formats. And follow the gold and silver rules of continuing education. You worked hard to earn your professional licenses and credentials. Maintaining them can be relatively hassle free with a little pre-planning and due diligence.
Questions for discussion:
How do you keep track of your CEs? Do you use online tracker apps and what is your experience with them? What might make tracking your CEs easier?
Sources and Resources
5 Reasons to Invest in Continuing Education
ANCC 2017 Certification Renewal Requirements
Continuing Education for License Renewal
What I Wish I’d Known About Continuing Education: Know Your Requirement [Part 1 of 3]
What I Wish I’d Known About Continuing Education: Managing Time and Money [Part 2 of 3]