Why Certified Nurses Should Look for Accredited Continuing Nursing Education

Amy Bernard, MS, RN-BC


June 04, 2009

What Does Individual Nurse Certification Represent?

Nurses have an ongoing need to expand their professional knowledge and skills due to rapidly changing advances in health care and technology. Achieving certification is the best way professional and advanced practice nurses verify that they hold an advanced level of knowledge and skills in a specialty practice area. This is well above the minimum level of competency expected by licensure. It demonstrates a high standard of professionalism. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) describes certification as a tool that “validates nurses’ skills, knowledge, and abilities.”[1] Board Certification provides evidence that the professional nurse has met pre-determined national criteria and attained additional knowledge and skills necessary in today’s healthcare world.

Expectations for Continuing Nursing Education and Continued Competence

Nursing certification requires ongoing commitment and lifelong learning. In order to maintain certification and provide evidence of maintaining expertise in a nursing specialty, certification renewal must be completed every few years (e.g. ANCC requires 5-year renewals). Certified nurses must fulfill the professional development requirements for their certification specialty, as well as complete a minimum number of practice hours in their certification role and specialty or retest.

Certified professional nurses seek experiences in continuing nursing education that will continue to advance their knowledge and skills.

Nurse Expectations

Nurses who have achieved certification should create a professional development plan that builds on their knowledge and keeps them current about developments in their particular role and specialty area. Selection of continuing education activities should be based on your self assessment and should foster your individual professional growth.

Maintaining a portfolio of professional activities keeps track of professional accomplishments. This may include keeping a journal or portfolio of courses completed, presentations delivered, and workshops attended. Nurses should continually evaluate and establish educational goals to expand their knowledge and skills. The decision to participate in a specific CNE activity often is based on these goals. Most nurses generally want a continuing education activity that can build on their existing knowledge of a topic and is either related to their practice or an area of practice about which they would like to learn more.

Certifying Board Expectations

Two thirds of certifying bodies responding to a 2008 survey indicate they have specific CE requirements for obtaining and/or maintaining certification.[2] Requiring continuing education helps to assure continuing competence for the certified nurse to perform their specified role. Certifying bodies generally stipulate a minimum number of hours required, what content is acceptable, and from where the continuing education should be obtained. For example, for nurses who hold certifications granted by the ANCC -- the largest and most prominent nurse credentialing organization in the United States -- at least 51% of their continuing education hours must be related to their certification specialty.

ANCC also stipulates that at least 50% of the continuing education hours must be either from an educational program/organization accredited by ANCC or be on their accepted list of organizations. The National Certification Corporation as well as some state Boards of Nursing requires that all continuing education programs must be accredited. These certifying bodies recognize that accreditation of CNE providers assures that the content is high quality, unbiased, and has been planned and implemented by nurses and other professionals who are experts in that subject. The accrediting body expects that these CNE providers meet advanced quality standards.

What Does ANCC Accreditation Represent?

To meet the educational needs of certified nurses through an ANCC-accredited organization assures a high level of quality in the continuing nursing education activity.
The accreditation and approval process of continuing nursing education is under the charge of the ANCC Commission on Accreditation. According to ANCC, the intent of the accrediting process is “to strengthen and sustain the quality and integrity of continuing nursing education, making it worthy of public confidence.” Accredited organizations of continuing education may be an institution, organization, agency, or company.

Accredited organizations go through a rigorous voluntary process to become accredited. They must adhere to specific requirements or standards (criteria) that guide the design and delivery of continuing nursing education activities. These standards are based on the ANA Scope and Standards for Practice for Nursing Professional Development, the ANA Code of Ethics, and other evidence-based data, and are updated every few years to reflect changes in the environment[3].

Accredited organizations also participate in a peer review of their practices to ensure adherence to the criteria. Additionally, they must demonstrate their capacity to deliver quality continuing education activities for nurses and to adhere to set processes, and sustain that accredited organization over time. Accredited organizations develop activities with clearly defined educational goals and adhere to stringent requirements for curriculum planning and presentation. A nurse planner, content expert, and a representative member of the target audience are all involved in the planning of activities. Standards ensure that the content is educationally sound, free from bias and commercial influence, and is appropriate for the nursing audience. Accreditation also assures that ethical and legal business practices along with strict commercial support guidelines are followed. An evaluation process regularly analyzes and strengthens the accredited organization and its activities.

Through accreditation, an organization conveys that its programs are recognized as high quality and that nurses can trust these programs as having the quality they expect to help foster their professional educational goals and continued competence. State licensing boards also recognize ANCC-accredited organizations providing continuing nursing education. This means that continuing education courses, such as those offered by ANCC accredited organizations, are acceptable as continuing education for nurse re-licensure by state licensing boards, because they are recognized for their quality and the rigor of the accreditation process.

How Do Nurses Benefit?

By seeking continuing nursing education activities from an accredited organization, certified nurses are assured that the high standards that they maintain for their practice are consistent with the same high standards used in the development and delivery of quality continuing nursing education. Certified nurses build upon the information gained or affirmed in the continuing education activity to develop or to maintain their competence to practice at the exceptional level that is expected of them.

Currently about 280 organizations hold ANCC accreditation status for continuing nursing education. Choosing an accredited organization for continuing nursing education assures you that the learning activity meets established high standards. You are also assured that you are dealing with a reputable organization, and a learning activity with integrity of content that will meet your professional education needs for re-certification to maintain your expertise, enhance your job performance, and improve practice outcomes.

This content is provided by American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for publication on the www.medscape.com web site.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center's (ANCC) internationally renowned credentialing programs certify nurses in specialty practice areas, recognize healthcare organizations for nursing excellence through the Magnet Recognition Program®, and accredit providers of continuing nursing education. In addition, ANCC offers an array of informational and educational services and products to support its core credentialing programs.

ANCC is passionate about helping nurses on their journey to nursing excellence. Visit ANCC's web site at www.nursecredentialing.org

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA).


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