Continuing Education in Pharmacology for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners must keep their medication knowledge current.
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If there’s one thing nurse practitioners need to stay up on, it’s medications. Sometimes it seems as though every time you blink, another new med appears on the market. In addition to wanting the best for your patients, you need to protect them from side effects. Not to mention that many states require NPs to have a certain amount of continuing education in pharmacology to renew that all-important license.

Prescribing Authority

As advanced practice nurses, NPs have prescribing authority. Each state regulates NP practice, and the regulations often vary from one state to another. Controlled substances tend to be the area where states have different regulations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In Arkansas, for example, an NP may prescribe, dispense and administer Schedule 3, 4 and 5 drugs. In California, the NP may also dispense, prescribe and administer Schedule 2 drugs, but only after she completes continuing education. Schedule 2 drugs have high abuse potential and include drugs such as morphine, methadone and hydromorphone. In Florida, NPs cannot prescribe controlled substances at all.

Continuing Education Requirements

In addition to regulating prescribing practices, states regulate continuing education requirements. Some states define exactly how many hours and what kind of education an NP needs, while others are less specific, according to the MedScape website. Arizona, Colorado and Connecticut do not require any CE, although they do require national certification in addition to an APN license. Indiana requires 30 hours of continuing education every two years; eight hours must be in pharmacology. Nebraska requires a total of 40 hours, with 10 hours in pharmacology. South Carolina not only requires CE in pharmacology prior to initial licensure, but requires that 15 hours be in pharmacology of controlled substances.

Specialty Certification

Many NPs hold specialty certifications from various certifying agencies. In some states, an NP must be both certified and licensed. Continuing education is required to maintain certification unless the NP chooses to repeat the certifying exam. Alaska, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia, for example, all require national certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center is the most common source of specialty certification for RNs. Beginning January 1, 2014, certified NPs must complete 75 hours of continuing education to retain certified status, and at least 25 of those hours must be in pharmacotherapeutics.

Education Options

You’ll find all sorts of options for continuing education in pharmacology. Professional organizations such as the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners are good resources. The AACN offers free continuing education to its members. Continuing education units are often available online. The annual meeting of a professional organization is another place where continuing education is available to the NP. One organization, Nurse Practitioner Associates for Continuing Education, specifically targets its educational offerings to meet the needs of NPs, while the My CME website offers a 20-unit package of pharmacology education.

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