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What Are Cross-Training Programs for Nurses?

Sherry Christiansen
Updated January 12, 2023
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Find out what you need to know about cross-training programs for nurses, such as the benefits, salary expectations, specializations, and how to sign up.
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Cross-training programs provide healthcare providers with specific skills (e.g., critical care, medical-surgical, or progressive care nursing competencies). These programs offer specialized training that nurses may not have received during nursing school.

Cross-training programs are designed to help deepen a nurse’s knowledge and skill level, allowing nurses to fill critical staff shortages. Learn how cross-training programs work, why and how to participate in cross-training programs, and which concentrations are common.

What Are Cross-Training Programs for Nurses?

Cross-training involves you, your nursing supervisor, and your workplace cross-training department. In some situations, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses must be onboarded quickly to help fill rapidly increasing staffing needs. Cross-training allows nurses to learn new, sometimes high-tech skills required to provide quality patient care.

The goal of cross-training programs is to provide a means for nurses to deepen their knowledge and skills in caring for specific types of patients (e.g., critically ill) and to improve safety and patient outcomes. The specific skills learned differ depending on the nursing concentration or specialty.

These special programs can help nurses increase flexibility and competitiveness in the job market. In addition to improving self-development, nurses may also be able to advance their careers.

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What Nurses Should Expect From a Cross-Training Program

There may be qualification parameters (e.g., good performance ratings) that must be met to be considered for cross-training programs. To get involved in a cross-training program, nurses must make their career interests known to their supervisor, then plan a training assignment. Some nurses may need to complete a year or two of clinical registered nurse (RN) experience to be eligible for cross-training.

Nurses pursuing cross-training in critical care units may be required to earn additional certifications, such as advanced cardiac life support or pediatric advanced life support.

Each facility has its own parameters when it comes to how many hours you are allowed to take to get cross-trained. Training usually occurs during work hours.

After getting approval from your supervisor, and/or with human resources, the next step is to develop a cross-training plan with the cross-training department. After training is complete, your performance will be evaluated.

Why Should Nurses Participate in Cross-Training?

Advantages of Cross-Training Programs

  • check-circleLearning new skills beyond those available through traditional continuing education programs
  • check-circleReceiving free training during paid work hours
  • check-circleIncreasing your job opportunities and improving your marketability

Disadvantages of Cross-Training Programs

  • x-circleBeing selected to float to other units more often than nurses who are not cross-trained
  • x-circleLosing the focus of your primary career goals
  • x-circleExperiencing high stress from frequently switching gears

Cross-Training Concentrations and Specializations

Nurses can be cross-trained in several concentrations or specializations, like critical care and medical-surgical nursing, as well as in postanesthesia care and telemetry units.


Medical-surgical (med-surg) nursing represents the largest nursing specialty in the U.S. Med-surg nurses give care to adults with an array of healthcare issues. These issues include various medical diagnoses and surgical conditions.

Salary for RNs With Medical-Surgical Skills
Payscale (January 2023)

Critical Care

Critical care nurses provide primary care and closely monitor, evaluate, and treat critical care patients with life-threatening injuries and illnesses.

Salary for RNs With Critical Care Skills
Payscale (January 2023)

Postanesthesia Care Unit

Postanesthesia care nurses provide care for postsurgery patients after general anesthesia. They closely monitor vital signs and perform other assessments to evaluate potential complications during recovery.

Salary for RNs With Critical Care Skills
Payscale (January 2023)

Telemetry Care

A telemetry care nurse, or progressive care nurse, closely monitors clients who need a device that measures the heart’s electrical activity. These patients are diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases or other serious conditions.

Salary for RNs With Telemetry Care Skills
Payscale (January 2023)

Frequently Asked Questions About Cross-Training for Nurses

How long are cross-training programs for nurses?

Training programs vary depending on the institution, the level of skills being trained for, and other factors. Some programs offer 100-hour cross-training programs.

What is cross-training in nursing?

Cross-training is a structured program designed for nurses who will fill critical shortages in other departments of the facility in which they are employed. Usually, this involves working with patients who are severely ill, such as those in critical care or progressive care units.

Nurses may need to refer to their individual programs or instructors on how to formally apply their cross-training skills after the program is completed.

Where can nurses participate in cross-training?

Nurses can participate in cross-training programs through their employers, usually in acute care facilities that employ nurses with various backgrounds and experience levels.


Related Pages

Page last reviewed December 19, 2022

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