When I was a nurse manager, I appreciated cross-trained nurses and their ability to adapt to various departments. I found that cross-trained nurses were often excellent teammates, problem-solvers, and motivated workers.

But it’s not just about impressing your manager. Cross-training develops professional and interpersonal skills from which all nurses can benefit. The following is 5 reasons you can benefit from being a cross-trained nurse.

1. Increase Your Knowledge

Becoming an expert in one area of nursing is great. We need specialists and expert nurses. However, we also need nurses who can take care of patients in any stage of illness or situation. By cross-training to other units, nurses are exposed to patients with different diseases, health conditions, technologies, and workflows.

This exposure reinforces and builds upon basic nursing skills. With patient census remaining high, we are often taking overflow patients who have illnesses or injuries different than our primary patient population. Cross-trained nurses are more comfortable and intuitive when caring for these patients.

2. Anticipate Needs to Improve Efficiency

Cross-training in any work environment is shown to contribute to team communication, coordination, and understanding. By cross-training, a nurse is integrated in multiple teams and learns communication and coordination workflows. A nurse who understands these workflows anticipates the needs of teammates quicker and often before being asked for aid. This significantly improves the efficiency of the team, builds comradery, and supports an overall positive and safe environment for both the patient and nurse.

3. Gain Greater Understanding and Empathy

Have you ever been a situation where you called another unit to give a report for an intended patient transfer and became frustrated when the nurse receiving the report didn’t fully understand? In many of the hospitals that I’ve worked, I’ve seen the ER nurses frustrated with the Med/Surg and ICU nurses and conversely the Med/Surg and ICU nurses frustrated with the ER nurses over patient transfers and reporting. It’s easy to focus on how busy we are and the current crisis happening in our department without thinking about the situations happening in other departments. Maybe the nurse we’re giving the report to is on his/her third admission in an hour.

This frustration significantly decreased for me when I started cross-training. That old colloquialism “don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes” rings true in the nursing world. Cross-training provides the insight and empathy needed to understand why a nurse may need more time before accepting a new patient and to understand the workloads and situational urgencies that arise in other departments.

4. Become More Flexible and Adaptable

As discussed already, exposure to different situations provides you with more knowledge and experience. The more knowledge and experience you have the less likely you are to become stressed by a change in patient assignment, change in patient condition, or change in equipment brands. You’ll be able to take previous experiences and relate them to your current situation to make educated decisions. This adaptability makes you a better teammate and resource to your coworkers. It will help you stay calm in the face of change.

5. Learn Best Practices and Mentor

When you first started your nursing career you may have learned only one way to perform a task. But as you work with other nurses and gain more experience you’ll learn new tips and tricks that other nurses use to perform tasks that may be more effective than your current practice. You can then take these new ‘pearls’ and share them with your peers who are experiencing the same frustrations you just resolved.

This continuous learning on the job is one of the strengths of the nursing profession. We must work as a team and mentor new nurses. You get better at this as you expose yourself to the way other teams work and seek out new mentors in cross-training. This allows you to take all the different practices you’ve observed, develop your own best practice, and then share your knowledge with the next generation of new nurses.

 

I recommend we all strive to be cross-trained nurses because it not only makes us more marketable as an employee, but is also personally and professionally enriching.

Melissa Lacy, MSN, FNP-BC
VP, Clinical Services