It is randomization day at your site for a complex trial, and the lead coordinator of the study calls out due to unforeseen circumstances. What do you do?

There will always be times when employees are sick or on vacation, and they will sometimes leave to pursue other opportunities. When that happens, it is the manager’s duty to make sure the team is prepared.

If your site is prepared and in good financial standing, you probably have a backup coordinator trained and available to conduct the visit when needed. For many sites, though, this isn’t the case. It has become essential for sites to cross-train employees to maintain adaptability. Risks should be taken strategically, as they may result in losing a key player at a critical juncture.

We have all had to assume responsibilities outside the parameters of our job description when necessary, such as a temporary transfer of position or department when another employee has a medical absence that leaves a position to be filled. It is at the discretion of the manager to determine whether the employee is asked or instructed to take on these additional responsibilities. While the change may solve an overarching staffing issue for management and has the potential to create opportunity for growth and advancement for the employee, being forced to take on unfamiliar tasks may negatively influence the employee’s job satisfaction if the change is forced.

Cross-training can be experienced by employees as an opportunity or burden, and their perspective often varies depending on how the site presents it. Although cross-training may result in some short-term loss in productivity, this is a small price to pay for the long-term benefits of increased efficiency and risk mitigation.

An effective cross-training culture starts with hiring the right people. Employees should be able to multitask, want to learn new skills, and shift gears quickly and effectively. It also requires planning: Who will do the cross-training? How will your site create time for it? How do cross-trained employees maintain their newly learned skills? Will cross-trained employees receive additional pay for taking on new duties? You might have to close the office for a half or full day on occasion to conduct the training. You may also need to work with an off-site venue where employees can be sent for the additional training.

Implementing a successful cross-training culture and program can be daunting. However, the benefits are numerous:

  • It’s a win/win proposition for you and your staff. If you need to hastily move someone into a different slot, the transition can still happen smoothly and the employee won’t have to learn at the physicians’ or patients’ expense. It allows for seamless transition and coverage of crucial roles to maintain productivity and compliance, reducing stress when change inevitably occurs.
  • It allows for consistency of operation. When employees learn the particulars of other jobs at the site, they understand the requisite policies and procedures, what paperwork is required, where needed materials are, and so forth. In other words, when people don’t have to wing it, the overall risk of deviations and safety issues is reduced.
  • It increases options and creates opportunity for your site and your employees. When an employee is given more responsibility, they might see it as the manager’s putting more time and trust into their personal and professional development. Employees may feel as if they have more to offer the company, causing them to work harder. This also allows sites to see the hidden strengths and passions of their employees and provide or develop opportunities for growth accordingly.

Creating a cross-training culture will protect your site from many of the challenges of transition, as you won’t need a dedicated staff person(s) for every role. Instead, you will cultivate a well-rounded team of individuals who can use their varied skills for whatever purpose is most urgent at the moment, interfacing and filling in for each other.

Cross-training helps build a culture of collective success. When your staff tackles challenges by working together and drawing on their shared pool of knowledge and skills, they will build confidence and take real pride in the outcome. The trust built will enable your staff to support each other in new ways into the future, which is invaluable in the ever-changing and fast-paced clinical research landscape.  

Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter, 2018 edition of SCRS Insite: The Global Journal for Clinical Research Sites.

  1. Cancialosi, C. Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees, September 2014.

About the Author

Nicole Mills is a Clinical Research Field Specialist with Medix and currently works in our Scottsdale, Arizona office.