Top Free Online Continuing Education Units for Nurses

9 Min Read Published December 15, 2021
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As most nurses realize during their careers, learning never stops. It’s essential to keep up to date with the latest medical technologies, standardized treatment protocols, and evidence-based nursing care. A formalized way of measuring these are Continuing Education Unit (CEU).

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What are CEUs?

To keep a valid and active nursing license, nurses must participate in continuing education throughout their careers. State boards of nursing measure their hours of participation in continuing education by CEUs.

The exact requirements of CEUs vary by state, but most states do require some amount of CEUs for license renewal. Check our our full list of state CEU requirements.

While not all states require CEUs, some hospitals and healthcare systems may require nurses to maintain a specific number of education hours per year. It’s important to speak to your hospital and/or unit educator to determine if this is a job requirement for your position.  

How Can Nurses Earn CEUs?

Nursing education credits can be earned in a variety of settings. Nurses who attend conferences, seminars, or workshops can be eligible for CEUs. Online educational classes or academic nursing courses can also count towards CEUs. In order for a CEU to be officially recognized by the state board of nursing, it has to go through an authorization process that requires submitting all documentation to an accrediting body. 

In addition, many hospital systems offer free CEUs at your place of employment throughout the year. Each state’s board of nursing may have slightly different criteria for CEU approval, so if you aren’t sure if your contact hours will be approved, check with your state board.

With each completion of continuing education, make sure to obtain a certificate of attendance in hard copy form. If for some reason you are audited by the state board of nursing, you must submit hard copies of all CEUs. By collecting them as you complete the courses, you will be less stressed when it is time to submit them to the state. Find a way to organize your paper and digital CEU certificate copies so when the renewal period rolls around, you can easily submit credits. 

If you are interested in attending a conference for CEU credit, this website lists conferences by date and location, including international nursing conferences. Make sure to look at the CEUs for each conference and make sure they are accepted by your state board of nursing. You can even combine your CEU requirements with taking a vacation cruise! Check out a list of CE cruises by specialty here. You can also check out companies, like Nursing CE Central, that specialize in helping nurses meet their state-required nursing CEUs, though those are typically not free. 

Hours that won’t count for CEUs include any activities that are part of your expected professional scope - hours you work in a clinical setting, employee orientation classes, or mandatory staff meetings.

How Many CEUs Do Nurses Need Per Year?

To determine how many CEUs nurses need by state, has compiled a complete list of CEU requirements and state board contact information. Some states specify requirements for specific educational classes, including child abuse, narcotic, and COVID vaccination,  as part of the total mandatory CEU credits. 

On average, nurses will need to earn 20-30 contact hours with every nursing license renewal (typically every 2 years). Once your renewal window passes, your CEU accumulation starts over again. You cannot carry over CEUs from previous years and use them throughout your career. This forces nurses to truly educate themselves in a consistent manner year to year. 

Is it Possible to Get CEUs Free?

Yes! Absolutely. As previously mentioned, some employers will offer free classes, local universities often host guest lectures that may qualify, and it’s especially easy with free online courses. See below for a short list of free online CEU courses available right now.

Here Are 18 Free Online CEU Courses Available RIGHT NOW!

1.) HCAHPS Series: Nurse and Interprofessional Team Communication (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: Every interaction with a healthcare professional, including what is communicated and what is observed, affects patients’ experience of care. Effectively communicating with patients, families, and colleagues is the foundation for a therapeutic and positive patient experience. Whether advocating for a patient, establishing rapport and empathy with a patient and their support system, or communicating with other members of the interprofessional team, your ability to effectively communicate is consistently challenged. Collaboration between interprofessional team members and patient satisfaction are improved when healthcare professionals recognize the factors that influence communication and consistently apply communication techniques proven to be effective.

2.) PhD or Professional Doctorate? Spotlight on Nurses Who Share Their Own Impactful Doctoral Journeys (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: Are you considering a PhD degree or professional doctorate (DNP or EdD)? Are you questioning the differences between the two paths? Which path might be best for you? There are different concentrations for each option, and you should know your options before selecting one path over the other. We need nurses who have these experiences. Come listen to and learn from nurses who hold these degrees to help you understand more about the educational options and impact of each.

3.) Starting Your Career as an Advanced Practice RN (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: The current healthcare environment offers new opportunities and a growing demand for advanced practice registered nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing describes four types of nurses who are considered APRNs: certified nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. The scope of practice for APRNs varies from state to state. This module will provide initial guidance to an RN who is interested in returning to school to attain an advanced degree and transition to become an APRN.

4.) Patient Temperature Management: How Controlled Warming and Cooling Affect Patient Outcomes (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: The goal of this presentation is to train nurses in acute care how to identify, address, and intervene in hypothermia cases.

5.) Compassion Fatigue (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: Compassion fatigue (CF) occurs when a caregiver experiences what experts call "secondary traumatic stress" in reaction to caring for those who are themselves suffering from traumatic events. Although caregivers don't actually experience the event (as is the case with post-traumatic stress disorder), they experience the event emotionally by caring for the patient. CF has become more widely recognized as a problem that many nurses face. In a study of 1,100 bedside nurses at a major tertiary care center, CF was found to be associated with a number of factors and to be significantly prevalent among the nurses. CF creates physical and emotional distress, but it's not just a personal issue -- it's a patient safety issue as well. Research has shown that CF may increase the risk of medical errors. This module will help nurses prevent, identify and manage compassion fatigue.

6.) Covid-19: Challenges Around Vaccinations (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: This course provides objective analysis about challenges with the COVID19 vaccine and its acceptance by healthcare workers.

7.) Covid-19: Managing Staff Mental Health During a Pandemic (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: This course provides objective analysis of data to address healthcare provider mental health needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

8.) Clinical Briefings™: Expert Perspectives in Cataract Surgery: Advances in Techniques, Technologies, & Intraocular Lens Selection (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: This online activity is designed to provide a concise and focused overview of an important clinical topic. It includes information on achieving optimal outcomes in cataract surgery with preoperative planning, surgical technique, and postoperative follow-up. The engaging multimedia format of this program includes audio commentary from an expert thought leader, integrated with text-based elements.

9.) Advances In™ Uveitic Macular Edema: The Future of Treatment for Patients With UME (CEU Hours: 1.00)

About: This online educational activity is designed to provide expert interpretation of new and emerging data on the treatment of uveitic macular edema, with a forward-looking perspective on how new and novel agents might impact clinical practice. The essentials of diagnosis, current and emerging treatment strategies, and management of treatment-related toxicities will be presented in a multimedia format, including a series of video interviews with an expert thought leader integrated into text-based elements.

10.) Understanding the Continuum of Care in SMA: The Importance of Early Diagnosis, Optimal Treatment, and Transitioning from Pediatric to Adult Care Teams (CEU Hours: 1.25)

About: This enduring continuing medical education (CME) activity is an archive of the live broadcast from November 17, 2020, featuring 4 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) specialists who address the latest in evidence-based management strategies for this neurologic disorder. They provide their clinical data perspectives supporting the importance of early diagnosis, current and emerging treatments, and transitioning care from pediatric to adult medical specialties. Prenatal and newborn screening, implementing early treatments, safety and availability of new and emerging treatments, and overcoming barriers when transitioning care as patients with SMA age is also addressed by the panel.

11.) Diabetes Consult: Selecting T2D Treatments for High-Risk Patients An Interactive Decision Support Tool (CEU Hours: 0.25)

About: The goal of this activity is to improve learners’ competence and performance in SGLT2 inhibitor treatment decisions for patients with T2D with and without related comorbidities.

12.) Clinical Consultations™: Streamlining the Pathway From Diagnosis to Treatment in Patients With MPS 1 (CEU Hours: 1.5)

About: The irreversible nature of the symptoms and ailments caused by mucopolysaccharidosis type 1 (MPS 1) increases the need for timely, accurate diagnosis and early treatment intervention. However, the clinical heterogeneity of MPS 1 means that symptoms can be nonspecific and nonfocal. This can delay the correct diagnosis, while tissue damage continues to accumulate. Diagnosis is fairly straightforward once MPS 1 is included in the differential diagnosis. Historically, treatment of MPS 1 was restricted to palliative and symptom-based interventions, but newer enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) is able to greatly slow the accumulation of mucopolysaccharides and subsequent tissue damage. Earlier diagnosis and implementation of ERT results in better outcomes for patients.

13. HIV Learning Lab (CEU Hours: 1.0)

About: This activity is designed to meet the educational needs of clinicians involved in the care of patients with HIV or at risk for HIV.

14. Increasing the Effectiveness of Suicide Prevention Strategies (CEU: 1.0)

About: Suicide in the United States is continuing to increase.  This CE course provides a snapshot of recent efforts to implement the goals and objectives of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and makes suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of these implementation efforts.

15. Resilience Factors for People Who Use Drugs (CEU: 1.0)

About: Research in the area of illicit substance use remains preoccupied with describing and analyzing the risks of people who use drugs (PWUD), however, more recently there has been a drive to use a strengths-based or resilience approach as an alternative to investigating drug use.  This CEU course analyzes how the concept of resilience is defined, operationalized, and applied in substance use research.

16. Dual Diagnosis: Understanding Co-Occurring Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders (CEU: 1.0)

About: Behavioral health professionals have a responsibility to be aware of the complex relationship between mental illness and substance abuse or dependence, known as dual diagnoses or co-occurring disorders. Topics include characteristics and prevalence, theories, screening and assessment, and treatment of dual diagnosis.

17. Nursing Evidence-Based Practice Nursing (CEU: 1.0)

About: The purpose of this module is to provide an overview of the importance, process, and implementation of EBP to enhance nursing practice, improve patient outcomes, and the overall quality of the healthcare system.

18. Tobacco Dependence Treatment Nursing (CEU: 1.0)

About: Therapies for patients with nicotine dependence.

For access to additional free CEU courses, check out,,, and

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Brittany Hamstra
Brittany Hamstra Contributor

Brittany Hamstra is a travel nurse on assignment in the amazing city of San Francisco. She specializes in Pediatric Oncology, Hematology, Neurology, and Epilepsy. When not working at the hospital or writing articles for, she enjoys playing beach volleyball or exploring the crazy beautiful nature around her. She loves a good adventure, and is currently planning her next big trip - trekking Patagonia in South America in December 2018. Travel nurses have the most fun!

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