What is a Post Anesthesia Nurse?
As their name states, post-anesthesia nurses care for patients who have gone under anesthesia. They observe and treat patients post-operation to make sure they safely awake from anesthesia. PACU nurses care for vital signs, measure consciousness levels, and ensure sedation is wearing off properly.
Unlike operating room nurses, PACU nurses take care of patients once they leave the operating room. Similarly, PACU nurses are not mistaken with nurse anesthetists, who have specialized and advanced nursing degrees.
National average salary: $94,966 per year
Job outlook: 12% increase by 2028
Where Do Post-Anesthesia Nurses Work?
Post-anesthesia nurses work in the post-anesthesia care unit in hospitals. While this is a critical care unit, patients here have gone under anesthesia but do not need close monitoring like in an ICU. Sometimes PACU nurses can find employment in other medical facilities that provide treatments that require anesthesia, such as testing facilities and ambulatories.
What Kind of Patients Are in a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit?
Patients in the post-anesthesia care unit aren’t in any danger. These patients have gone under anesthesia and are transferred here for close monitoring until they’re fully awake. These patients haven’t undergone any major surgical procedure that requires intensive care. Otherwise, patients would be transferred to the ICU instead.
What Does a Post-Anesthesia Nurse Do?
PACU nurses work in the recovery room, becoming one of the first people they see after a procedure. Because some patients experience side effects such as nausea, fear, agitation, and difficulty breathing, post-anesthesia nurses are there to care for and monitor their progress. Sometimes, PACU nurses may also be responsible for helping patients stand and completing the discharge process.
Post-anesthesia nurses provide comfort and assurance. They explain to family members the anesthesia side effects and answer any potential questions. This close connection to patients and families means PACU nurses need to be understanding and compassionate.
Most responsibilities include:
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment and make quick critical decisions
- Respond to complications administering medications and assisting in other procedures as needed
- Monitor post-operative patients’ levels of consciousness
- Measure and record patients’ vital signs
- Treat pain, nausea, and other post-operative symptoms of anesthesia
- Provide comfort and reassurance to distressed patients
- Educate patients and family members on post-surgery care
How Do You Become a Post-Anesthesia Nurse?
Like other nursing specializations, the journey to becoming a PACU nurse starts with getting certified as a registered nurse. Gaining experience in the post-anesthesia care unit is enough to start carving a career in this field. However, you can also further your education by becoming a certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN).
- Certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN)
- Certified ambulatory perianesthesia (CAPA) nurse
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Post-Anesthesia Unit Nurse?
Most PACU nurses handle between one to two patients at a time, so it’s considered a less stressful nursing job. Still, it is paramount that good PACU nurses have strong nursing skills and make quick decisions about their care. Compassion, communication, and collaborative skills are crucial in this position. PACU nurses often are part of a larger team and must work in a group environment.
Most common skills or post-anesthesia unit nurses include:
- Experience in intensive care unit or post-anesthesia care unit
- Proficiency in electronic hospital management systems
- Exceptional interpersonal, communication, and collaboration skills