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What is a PACU Nurse?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A patient is usually admitted into a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) after he or she undergoes a surgical procedure in a hospital or outpatient clinic so that experienced nurses can monitor recovery. A PACU nurse is a licensed, specially trained health care professional who ensures that postoperative patients receive proper care and attention. A nurse checks patients' vital signs, changes bandages, and administers medications if necessary. He or she assesses patients' overall health and provides helpful home-care information before allowing them to leave the facility.

Following an operation, an anesthesia care provider (ACP) will explain the patient's condition to a PACU nurse. It is important for a nurse to gather as much information as possible from the ACP to understand the type of care a patient needs. Patients who are still recovering from their doses of anesthesia may not be able to recognize pain or other adverse feelings, so the nurse needs to constantly monitor them to prevent possible health complications. He or she dresses surgical scars, measures blood pressure, checks breathing rates, and evaluates cognitive skills.

Depending on the type of operation performed and the amount of anesthesia received, a patient may be in the PACU anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours or longer. A nurse provides expert counseling and education services for patients going home after their surgeries. He or she explains the importance of caring for wounds and getting plenty of rest during recovery. If a patient is scheduled to stay in the hospital, the nurse communicates with other staff members to arrange a transfer.

The requirements to become a PACU nurse vary between countries and specific job settings, but most professionals must have college degrees and pass national licensing exams to earn registered nurse credentials. New nurses usually need to gain experience in other settings, such as emergency rooms and critical care units of hospitals, before they can apply for jobs in the PACU. Some employers require nurses to complete a set number of continuing education credit hours and pass additional certification tests to ensure that they are capable of handling the duties common in this unit.

PACU nurses who meet qualification requirements can apply for jobs at hospitals, specialty clinics, and outpatient surgical centers. They receive additional, on-the-job training from experienced nurses to become familiar with specific policies and techniques. An experienced nurse can choose to pursue a master's degree to become a nurse practitioner. With nurse practitioner credentials, a professional has the opportunity to lead teams of other nurses, conduct research, and perform administrative duties at a health care facility.

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Discussion Comments

By parkthekarma — On May 20, 2011

@emtbasic - An experienced PACU nurse should have no problem finding work as a traveler. A quick Internet search will reveal any number of PACU travel nurse jobs.

By emtbasic — On May 18, 2011

Would a PACU nurse have the opportunity for travel nursing, or do they generally work in a set location?

By BigManCar — On May 17, 2011

PACU nursing could be a great next step for a nurse looking for a challenging, fast-paced place to continue a nursing career. A lot of nurses start off doing medical-surgical or "floor" nursing, and look for something more specialized when they get some experience. The PACU environment allows the nurse to utilize existing experience while learning new skills and techniques.

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