As a nurse, you probably get a lot of promotional flyers and E-mails for continuing education (CE) activities. How do you determine if a course is worthwhile, useful, and appropriate? Whether you're attending a conference for CEs or taking a print or online CE offering, use this checklist of questions to evaluate it.
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Who's the provider? Does the organization have a track record or previous experience in offering CEs? Things to look for include whether the organization is a health care facility, an educational group, or a for-profit company. Although these types of organizations all offer accredited CE, their missions can vary. For example, specialty organizations focus on content relating to that field, colleges and universities might offer topics related to their curricula, and publishers offer access to writers or speakers who are national experts.
Have you heard of the provider before, or is the organization new? Being new isn't necessarily bad, but experienced organizations have a history and a reputation you can review on their Web site or through a colleague who's participated in their courses.
Is the organization accredited? Is the activity approved? The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) accredits organizations, including state nurses associations, specialty organizations, publishers, and others as providers or approvers of CE offerings. If accredited as a provider, an organization can award contact hours; if accredited as an approver, it can review programs or courses and approve them if they meet established standards. Look for statements on CE offerings indicating that the sponsoring organization has been accredited or approved or that the activity has been approved. The wording may vary, but all statements should indicate that the contact hours are offered by a reliable organization and that they'll meet your relicensure or recertification requirements. When in doubt, however, check with your state board of nursing if you're licensed in a state with mandatory relicensure requirements (see list on page 30 of this directory).
[check mark] How do I evaluate the content?Always look at the course description, the program's goal, the content outline, or at least the program objectives (which state the expected outcomes) to see if the information is appropriate for you. Ask yourself, Does this relate to my job? Does the program build on previous learning? How will I apply the information I learn? Will it help me expand my position or lead to a new one? Of course, you may be interested in the content just for the sake of new knowledge. To get the most from it, be sure that the level of information is appropriate for you-not too basic and not too advanced.Also be alert to bias; you want accurate information, not an author's biased view about a product, for example. So look for a disclosure statement from the author or speaker, which reveals whether she has any relationship to or financial investment in any companies whose products pertain to the content of the CE. If the CE offering is sponsored by a company that manufactures a product being shown, look for a phrase such as "sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant from X company."
[check mark] Will my contact hours be good for licensure as well as certification? As noted, most states and specialty organizations recognize the ANCC-approval mechanism. ANCC approval is reciprocal in almost all states (a few require separate provider status or approval) and for all specialty organizations that recognize the system.Pay attention to limitations established by the ANCC, state boards, or specialty certification boards. For example, if you're certified by the ANCC, 50% of your CEs must come from an ANCC-accredited provider (see providers listed on the ANCC Web site at http://www.nursingworld.org/ancc/accred/orgs.html). If you're licensed in a state that has mandatory relicensure requirements, call or click your state board of nursing for details. If you're certified by a specialty organization, call or click the certification board for that organization's requirements. Also take note of any limitations on using independent learning, such as print or online tests, for relicensure or recertification.
[check mark] What about the faculty? As you read descriptions of CE courses or consider print or online offerings, pay particular attention to the presenters or authors. Ask yourself, Does their background qualify them to teach (or write) the content? You can get an impression from their titles, positions, and credentials. Remember that nonnurses can be appropriate presenters for some content. For example, a pharmacist might be an appropriate presenter on a drug topic, and a nutritionist might teach dietary concerns for patients with a particular disease. In general, however, nurses are the best presenters to teach nursing content.
[check mark] What about costs? Some CE offerings are free, and as long as they're offered by accredited or approved providers, that's fine. When fees are charged, the cost can vary widely, depending on such factors as how the course is presented (in print, online, or in person) and who's providing it. Fees also vary from region to region across the country. If you're taking a CE test from a print journal or an online site, the fee will be clearly displayed. If you're attending a conference, the CE fee might be included in your registration; if you're going to a CE seminar, your fee might include food and lodging. Service can vary too-companies that offer low cost CE may not send out certificates as quickly as you'd expect.Want to save money? Look for CE offerings that draw on grant money to defray costs. Or, if the content will add to your value as an employee, ask your employer to pay the fee. (Most institutions have budgets for staff education.)
At the end of the day, only you can judge the value of a CE offering. Consider whether participating in a CE activity will help you keep abreast of new developments in nursing, become more productive or proficient in your work (which also benefits your patients and your employer), or interact more meaningfully with colleagues. All of these are legitimate reasons for participating in CE. Good luck in your venture into lifelong professional learning.