Avoid threats to your nursing license
Mind your mandatory CE credits to stay in good standing with the board
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By Nancy J. Brent
Is a whistleblower always legally protected?
To obtain an initial license to practice nursing, or to renew a license to practice nursing, a nurse licensee must attest that she or he has met the requirements as set forth by the
state board of nursing
. If a nurse does not meet these standards, she or he can face disciplinary action.
Lying about meeting CE requirements
If a nurse licensee states she has completed the required continuing nursing education requirements when she has not, the nurse licensee faces several allegations if discovered, including practicing nursing without a license or falsification of an application for, or renewal of, a nursing license. The board could decide to charge the nurse with unprofessional conduct likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.
The accusations, if proven, can result in a disciplinary action, which can include:
  • Denial of the application or renewal, a fine, a censure or reprimand of the nurse licensee.

  • Being placed on probation for a period of time.
The unfortunate ‘unapproved course’ mishap
If a nurse licensee, in good faith, states she has completed the continuing nursing education requirements, but one or more of the courses taken are not approved by the board, she will most likely be required to appeared before the board to explain her attestation. Although it was not an intentional falsification of the application or renewal, the nurse still has practiced without a license, since the renewal was based in part on completing the required nursing education contact hours. Since the renewal was not valid, the nurse may be fined by the board or be required to take an online or in-person course on the state nurse practice act and its rules.
A shortcoming in required topics
A third scenario in which a nurse may face initial or renewal problems is when the approved courses do not include a required topic. How and why this happened is something the board will want to determine. Because a required topic was not completed, the nurse faces a fine and disciplinary action because the license granted by the board is not current or valid. In any of these instances, discipline imposed by the board is reported on the board’s website as well as to the
National Practitioner Data Bank
and the
National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s NURSYS database
. Keep in mind the board of nursing can become aware of non-compliance with nursing continuing education requirements through a complaint made to the board or through their power to audit licensees’ records of their contact hours. These scenarios have serious ramifications for nurses practicing in states requiring continuing education, so keep the following nine tips in mind:
Know your state nurse practice act and rules requirements for continuing nursing education requirements and adhere to them.
Remember you and only you are accountable for complying with your state’s continuing nursing education requirements.
If you are unsure if a program or course is consistent with your state board of nursing requirements, obtain a written statement from the program sponsor as to its approval.
Never falsify any information on an application for initial licensure or renewal of an existing license.
Select programs or courses that not only meet your licensing obligations but also increase your competency in your practice area.
Never offer to provide a continuing nursing education program without adhering to your state board of nursing’s requirements.
Keep all certificates awarded to you by a continuing nursing education program.
Never practice with a license that is not valid and current.
Retain a nurse attorney or attorney to represent you in any board proceedings concerning your non-compliance with continuing nursing education contact hours to obtain or renew your nursing license.
Board of nursing requirements
The issuance of a license often rests with the board of nursing’s requirements for continuing nursing education contact hours. These prerequisites vary from state to state as to the number required (e.g. 30 in a renewal period), whether specific topics must be included in the overall number (e.g., child abuse and neglect, nursing ethics), and “professional activity” obligations (e.g., precepting, hands-on clinical experience). States that require continuing nursing education contact hours designate them as mandatory. In other words, if the required contact hours are not met, no initial license or renewal of a license can occur. These states include New Jersey, Illinois, California and Alabama. States that have no requirement include Arizona, Colorado, and Maine.  State boards of nursing do not just look at numbers of continuing nursing education contact hours, however. The programs offering contact hours must be recognized by the board of nursing as acceptable programs.
Find out which states require contact hours
Learn More
Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN,'s legal information columnist, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist.
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