PACU Nurse Job Description: Salary, Responsibilities & More

For patients undergoing surgery, a PACU nurse is a key member of the healthcare team. Many people are unfamiliar with this specialty and the PACU nurse job description in general. Let’s take a closer look at the responsibilities of this important role of  recovery.

What Is A PACU Nurse?

Post Anesthesia Care Unit nursing, also known as PACU nursing is a lesser-known but very important specialty. When a patient is in the operating room, an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist puts them under sedation for their procedure. Afterward, the patient is transferred to the PACU, where they stay until they wake up from the anesthetic.

Patients must be monitored closely during this time. The PACU nursing team will help keep them comfortable and calm while making sure they recover from sedation and that there are no immediate complications from surgery.

PACU Nurse Job Description

PACU nursing is a unique field, nurses in this specialty must be able to work in high-pressure environments and knowledgable in treating postoperative side effects from anesthesia including nausea or pain and even possibly agitated or combative patients. Patients come in and out of the PACU quickly, and their conditions must be closely monitored. Most facilities require several years of experience for PACU nurses with experience in an ICU or ER setting preferred.

Patients in the PACU don’t always remember their nurses as they are waking up from surgery and are usually transferred to a med-surg floor or discharged to home once they are awake and in stable condition. Consequently, PACU nurses don’t spend as much time with their patients, but they care for more patients on a daily basis than nurses in other specialties.

A PACU nurse generally has more regular working hours because operating rooms and surgical centers are primarily open during regular business hours. That said, emergencies happen and operating rooms must always be ready, so on-call, evening, and weekend hours are also common.

Nurses in the PACU typically care for multiple patients every shift, but they don’t spend as much time with them as nurses in other specialties. Rather than managing long-term medical issues, PACU nurses focus on treating post-op side effects, including administering medication for pain and nausea.

PACU Nurse Responsibilities

In 2018, 9,605,500 inpatient hospital stays involved an OR procedure, and it’s safe to assume that most of these patients were cared for by a nurse in the PACU afterward. The duties and responsibilities of a PACU nurse vary depending on the patient and facility, but they can include:

  • Monitoring patient responsiveness
  • Assessing whether patients are oriented when recovering from sedation
  • Administering medications to treat pain and nausea
  • Monitoring vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate, and heart rate
  • Monitoring for complications from surgery, including bleeding

PACU Nurse Requirements and Certifications

Here are the steps to becoming a PACU nurse:

Get a Nursing Degree

Anyone who wants to be a PACU nurse first needs to get a nursing degree and PACU nurse certification. There are two ways to do this, an Associate Degree in Nursing & a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Associates degree programs are shorter and can usually be completed in two years or less, while a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years. Some facilities will hire a nurse with an associate’s degree into a PACU with the right combination of experience, but many places prefer nurses to have a bachelor’s degree.

Take the NCLEX-RN

To practice as a registered nurse, all graduates of a nursing program must pass the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN exam. The RN exam evaluates the graduate’s ability to safely provide care for patients by proving they meet certain standards.

Get a State License

After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, nurses can apply for licensure to practice as registered nurses in their state. Each state has different qualifications for obtaining and maintaining a nursing license.

Get a Job as an RN

Most facilities require a PACU nurse to have several years of experience. Working in different settings is a great way to learn and practice a variety of nursing skills, and it helps ensure the nurse can keep up with the hectic PACU environment. Many facilities prefer nurses who have ICU or ER experience before they work in the PACU.

Become a PACU Nurse

Nurses can apply to work as a post anesthesia care unit nurse after they meet the facility’s prerequisites for the role. For nurses wishing to be Certified Post Anesthesia Nurses (CPANs), they must complete at least 1,800 hours of direct care in the PACU within two years before taking the certification exam offered by the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc. While this is not always a requirement for the job, many facilities prefer it, and nurses with certifications usually earn a higher salary.

PACU Nurse Skills

There are many critical skills a PACU nurse should have, including:

  • Able to work in a fast-paced environment
  • Detail-oriented
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Hard-working
  • Organization

PACU Nurse Salary

The average salary for a PACU nurse is about $75,000, though this greatly depends on experience, education, contract or perm position type, and location.

Closing Thoughts

PACU nurses may not get to spend a lot of quality time with their patients, but they play a big role in their recovery after surgery. If you’re looking for a fast-paced job in nursing where every day is different, search for PACU nurse jobs now.

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