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The Difference Between CME Credits and Continuing Education Units

Doctors, nurses and other advanced practitioners aren’t just at the front lines of care, they are central to the functioning of healthcare facilities. Within the job description of these vital practitioners are duties comprising both non-clinical and clinical responsibilities. These roles are ever-changing, and with them, so do the continuing education requirements required to maintain credentials and licenses. This makes it necessary for the medical practitioner to engage in both professional continuing education and continuing medical education. Earning both continuing education units (CEUs) and CME credits helps practitioners build skills and adapt to changing roles. It is therefore important that practitioners understand the difference between CEU vs. CME credits.

Medical Practitioners Need Both CE and CME

A practitioner’s clinical duties often require the examination of patients to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries, illnesses, and other ailments. Non-clinical duties are more administrative in nature and revolve around regulatory requirements and facility procedures in infection control, abuse and neglect, patient restraint and seclusion, safety and emergency protocols.

The difference between clinical and non-clinical procedures are at the heart of the comparison between continuing education units vs. continuing medical education credits, or CME vs. CEU. While there’s substantial overlap between clinical and non-clinical duties within a practitioner’s daily regime, staying current with the latest knowledge and skills means addressing both individually.

What are Continuing Medical Education Credits?

There are two types of CME credits. AMA PRA Category 1 credits and AMA PRA Category 2 credits. Each indicates a type of CME activity and its contribution toward learning goals.

Category 1 credits form the core of requirements and are earned to advance the primary knowledge, skills and aptitude required to deliver compassionate and effective medical care. These credits are earned via structured learning sessions delivered in conference, lecture or online format. CME must be accredited to count as a Category 1 credit.

Category 2 credits reflect elective style learning and are less structured in their requirements. Category 2 credits can consist of a range of self-reported and self-claimed activities such as research, teaching and medical journal reading.

CME requirements differ by state and are required in the certification and credentialing of medical practitioners. CME standards are developed by a combination of state medical licensing boards, professional societies like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Accreditation Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to ensure CME requirements meet high standards of clinical and practitioner development.

What are CEUs?

Although a not standardized term, CEUs generally refers to the number of continuing education units awarded per a continuing education activity (CE). In this case, “unit” refers to the value of CE. Units can be thought of similarly as “credits” available within the accredited CME system. Therefore, AMA PRA Category 1 credits are comparable but not the same as CEUs.

Refer to your state regulatory boards regarding what qualifies as CE. CE comes in a lot of shapes and sizes but only CE that meets board standards can be completed for credit. Each state’s regulatory board has clear guidelines on what the CEU requirements are for your profession.


One primary difference between CEUs and CME is that CME is required by medical practitioners like physicians, physician assistants and nurses. In other words, those directly delivering medical care to patients. But practitioners are also required to receive CEUs that promote professional standards and development, even if they aren’t directly related to care.

Like CME, CEUs can be profession-specific but must be completed by non-clinical personnel as well as medical personnel. For example, dentists, pharmacists, massage therapists and medical assistants are all required to complete CEUs but not traditional CME. The exception to this is physical and occupational therapists who deliver clinical services but do not complete the same CME as most medical personnel.