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How Do I Choose the Best Healthcare Continuing Education Courses?

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  • Written By: Lisa Cox
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2014
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Healthcare continuing education is necessary for almost all members of the healthcare industry. New procedures, equipment, and medications are continuously being developed, and healthcare professionals must continue to learn if they are to provide the best care for their patients. Choosing the best continuing education courses depends largely on the credits needed and whether the person needing them wants to take online courses or earn credit in a classroom or during the course of a weekend conference.

Four of the main kinds of credits available for those who work in healthcare are continuing medical education credits (CME), the continuing education unit (CEU), American Medical Association Physician's Recognition Award (AMA PRA) credits, and continuing nurse education credits (CNE). These credits are probably the most well known and most accepted for people who work in healthcare. Certain specialties — such as emergency room health care and pharmacy — have additional healthcare continuing education requirements.

To find the best continuing education classes, it is important for healthcare professionals to understand the specific requirements for their field. There are professional organizations for every specialty, and nearly all of them require continuing education of some kind to be a member. States may have separate continuing education requirements for medical professionals, and continuing education is typically required to retain licensing or certification.

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Healthcare continuing education courses are widely available online for those who want to earn credits in their spare time. Video conferences that can earn credits also are available online. Credits also can be earned during the course of a weekend conference. Some healthcare continuing education courses charge fees, while others are offered free of charge.

One important thing to look for when choosing a healthcare continuing education course is whether it is accredited. Some organizations won’t accept credits from non-accredited organizations, meaning any work done to earn the credit will have been wasted. Next, the program’s ties to commercial interests are significant. All organizations that deal with accreditation of continuing education are concerned with being independent of commercial interests to varying degrees. The idea is to get the best information possible, not information on a specific product or medicine offered by a company with a commercial interest in the program.

The most common and widely recognized healthcare continuing education credit is the CME. These courses are offered by certified agencies or educational institutions and are required to meet standards of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). These standards not only strive to make continuing education relevant and scientifically sound, but also to make sure courses are independent of commercial interests. The ACCME website has information about both courses and requirements.

The CEU is a credit accepted by various medical professional groups and licensing bodies as continuing education credits. The CEU’s standards are not as strict as those of the CME. The CEU is widely accepted, and many CME classes also count as CEU courses.

While CME and CEU credits are widely used even for medical professionals who are not physicians, AMA PRA is only for physicians. AMA PRA credits can be earned from a CME-accredited organization. Some activities, called AMA PR2 credits, are not available through CME providers but can also be used as credits. The AMA PRA program is more involved and has more requirements than simply earning a certain number of CME credits. Specifics on the AMA PRA can be found on the American Medical Association’s website.

Healthcare continuing education for nurses is likely to involve CNE credits, though — depending on the organization and licensing requirements — nurses may also need to earn CME credits. CNE credit courses are accredited through the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Commission on Accreditation and are specifically applicable to nursing duties. The ANCC organizes and administers the CNE program and is a big promoter of collaborative efforts in hospitals and creating change based on science and research.

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