Post Anesthesia Care Unit nurses, or PACU nurses, play one of the most crucial roles on a care team.1 For patients, they provide vital physical and emotional care in the vulnerable hours right after surgery following surgery or another procedure. They’re also a necessary liaison between those patients and their doctors.
That’s a lot of responsibility. But that’s also why PACU nurses earn one of the highest salaries alongside other nursing specialties.
So, what determines the PACU nursing salary? Aside from the unique demands of PACU nursing, your salary may also be impacted by a range of factors, from your educational background to the state where you’re employed. Understanding these factors can help you know what to expect and ensure that you’re fairly compensated before committing to any PACU nursing jobs.
What Is the Average PACU Nursing Salary?
PACU nursing is a specialty branch of nursing that requires providing primary care for patients in critical stages, managing patient recovery, and communicating with doctors about patient care.1 In most cases, those responsibilities translate into higher salaries.
As of spring 2022, the average PACU RN salary was $94,966 annually in the United States.2 That puts PACU nurses in a significantly higher pay grade than general Registered Nurses, or RNs, who currently earn about $77,600 per year.3
Keep in mind, however, that your actual compensation may be more or less than the national average depending on your specific circumstances.
In clinics, homes, hospitals, and medical centers all over, nurses provide an expansive range of care to meet the needs of patients at every step of their healthcare journey. Often, these nurses are specialists in one of the dozens of specific nursing concentrations.
Understandably, certain of these specialties earn higher salaries. Although PACU nurses don’t earn quite as much per year as, for example, the nurses who work in neonatal intensive care ($101,727), they do enjoy slightly higher earnings than other specialties.5
Overall, the average PACU nurse salary is about equal to that of other similar nursing specialties. For example, PACU nurses and ICU nurses make nearly the same salary, with ICU nurses edging in at an average of $95,000. Though PACU RNs do earn slightly higher, iit is important to remember that there are major differences between the roles and responsibilities of a PACU vs ICU nurse.5 Higher-paying specialties include:
- Informatics Nurses
- Health Policy Nurses
Why Do PACU Nurses Make the Amount They Do?
The reason why the average PACU nursing salary is higher than some other kinds of nursing is because of the range of responsibilities PACU nurses manage, the unique challenges they face, and the level of specialized care the role requires.
PACU nurses work in specific, post-surgical environments to provide care for patients who are in the most vulnerable state they could be in—coming out of anesthesia after a medical procedure. While CRNAs are responsible for administering anesthesia and monitoring patients throughout the procedure, it’s the PACU nurse who’s there when the patient wakes up.
For many patients, emerging from anesthesia after an operation can be a confusing and even frightening experience. Patients are known to exhibit physical and psychological symptoms such as:1
- Emotional instability
That means that in addition to managing a patient’s physical healthcare needs, PACU nurses must manage their emotional and psychological needs as well.
That said, PACU nursing isn’t only about emotional care. The hours immediately following surgery or any procedure involving anesthetic are delicate periods during which care providers must closely monitor patients. PACU nurses, with their specialized knowledge and skills, are the ones who do that, performing essential duties like:
- Monitoring vital signs
- Administering medications
- Changing bandages
In other words, when a patient is in the earliest stages of recovery, it is the PACU nurse who is tasked with keeping the closest watch. This important role is therefore taken into consideration when it comes to determining the PACU salary.
What Factors Determine the Salary For a PACU Nurse?
There are several factors that can influence any given PACU nursing salary, from the degrees and professional certifications you earn to the hospital—or hospitals—where you care for patients.
If you’re a working nurse who’s considering pivoting to a specialty, knowing what those factors are can help you make the right choices about how to make the switch. If you’re still in nursing school, this information can influence your education choices and help you stand out to employers after you graduate.
Regardless of their specialty, nurses are needed everywhere. Year after year, nursing ranks high on lists of the most in-demand professions, and according to the most current projections from the American Nurses Association, that trend is only going to continue.4 In fact, many states are currently experiencing nursing shortages, making nurses more important than ever.
That said, a PACU salary—like any other nursing salary—can vary considerably from state to state. The five states that can boast the highest annual PACU nursing salaries are:6
- New York
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia
On the opposite end of the spectrum, nurses of all kinds tend to earn less in states like Alabama, South Dakota, and Mississippi.
Before you can become a PACU nurse, you have to become an RN. That means obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at the very least. However, many nurses pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Among PACU nurses, those with ADNs and those with BSNs are pretty evenly split. That said, you may be able to increase your earning potential—not to mention your market viability—by advancing your education beyond the standard ADN degree.
Across the board, PACU nurses who enter the workplace with BSNs command on average over $8,000 more annually than those with ASNs.7
Your training as a nurse doesn’t begin and end in the classroom, nor is it complete once you’ve secured a degree. Nursing positions often require specialty certifications and licenses, especially if you hope to find work in a specialty area like PACU nursing. Even if they aren’t required for the job, certifications can often be a useful tool when you’re negotiating a higher PACU RN salary.
In the United States, PACU nurses are not required but can become certified by the American Board of PeriAnesthesia Nurses.6 Becoming a certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN) requires passing the Board’s official exam. However, eligibility for the exam comes with its own requirements.
To qualify for the exam, you must:
- Have an ADN or BSN
- Be a licensed RN
- Have at least 1,800 hours of clinical experience
Among the most common PACU nurse interview questions, level of experience is the number one topic of discussion. As in most professions, your salary is somewhat commensurate with your level of experience. The longer you practice PACU nursing, the higher you can expect your PACU nursing salary to rise.
That said, there are ways to gain experience that can help you bargain for a higher PACU RN salary right out of the gate. Especially if you’re still studying to be a nurse, you may be able to gain on-the-job experience through:
Whether You’re Willing to Travel
Whether you’re a traditional RN, a PACU nurse, or any other kind, you stand to make a much higher salary if you’re willing to trade a long-term work environment for the road.
On average, even travel nurses who don’t work in specialized fields make annual salaries of just over $108,000 per year.9
In the face of widespread nursing shortages and the general demand for the job, travel nurses provide vital support to help hospitals and other care facilities fill the gaps. They provide necessary support when health systems don’t have the staff to handle an influx of patients, during union strikes, and when regular staff are on leave.
There are two big reasons why the PACU travel nursing job comes with such lucrative paychecks:
- Demand – Because travel nurses have become indispensable when it comes to filling the staffing needs of hospitals and other health centers, they’re able to demand higher salaries upfront.
- Incentives – It isn’t just the base pay that boosts the earnings of travel nurses. Often, those who accept travel nursing jobs receive a variety of financial incentives that makes the work even more appealing. Sign-on bonuses, stipends for food and housing, and mileage reimbursements are all examples of incentives you might receive.
What’s more, being a travel PACU nurse comes with a host of benefits that aren’t related to the PACU travel nurse salary.8 Flexibility, freedom, and the chance for new professional experiences are all some of the perks of travel nursing that can’t be valued in dollars.
Reach Your PACU Nursing Potential with Host Healthcare
PACU nursing can be a gratifying and fulfilling career for nurses who want to provide specialized care at the critical stages when patients need it most. But what if you want to combine your passion for travel with a career that offers the chance to care for patients all over?
In that case, consider applying to work with Host Healthcare as a traveling PACU nurse.
When you work with Host Healthcare, you can join a movement of nurses who enjoy fantastic pay, premium benefits, and positions that perfectly match their passions and skills. With tens of thousands of positions in our network and a dedicated support team at your fingertips, Host Healthcare takes care of the details so that you can travel comfortably with peace of mind.
Are you ready to do what you love, wherever you want? With Host Healthcare, you can go anywhere. We’ll help you get there.
Ashleigh Murray, BSN, RN
Nursing Specialty: PACU, Emergency Trauma, Post-op, Pre-op, ICU float
After completing an emergency trauma nurse residency at a level-one trauma center and teaching hospital in Washington, DC, I dove hard into emergency trauma nursing. I absolutely loved everything about working in the heart of DC with my emergency room family. After some time, I decided I wanted to grow my knowledge base and see how the rest of the US handles emergency trauma, so I became a travel nurse. I absolutely loved it! I loved learning how different places handle different situations or how different parts of the country prefer certain medications over others to achieve the same outcome. Traveling made me want to learn other nursing areas, so after gaining the needed experience, I took some cool travel jobs in Pre-op, Post-op, PACU, and PACU with ICU floating. Many of these travel jobs turned into long-term staff residencies because I couldn’t help falling in love with each city, the hospitals’ staff, and the knowledge and skills I obtained in each place. Being a nurse has enriched my life, filled my cup by allowing me to help others, and provided me with so many adventures. I can’t wait for the next one!
- “Why PACU Nursing Might Be Right For You.” Host Healthcare. 28 Oct. 2021. https://www.hosthealthcare.com/blog/why-pacu-nursing-might-be-right-for-you/
- “PACU Nurse Salary.” Zip Recruiter. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/PACU-Nurse-Salary
- Jividen, Sarah. “How Much Do Nurses Make? Nurse Salary 2022.” Nurse.org. 17 May 2022. https://nurse.org/education/how-much-do-nurses-make/
- “Nursing Shortage by State: 2022 Stats & Solutions.” Nightingale College. 6 May 2020. https://nightingale.edu/blog/nursing-shortage-by-state/#
- “The 15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2022.” Nurse.org. 25 Feb 2022. https://nurse.org/articles/15-highest-paying-nursing-careers/
- “How to Become a PACU Nurse | Salary & Requirements.” Nurse.org. 3 Jan. 2022. https://nurse.org/resources/PACU-nurse/
- “PACU Nurse: What Is a PACU Nurse?” The Gypsy Nurse. 3 Nov. 2021. https://www.thegypsynurse.com/blog/pacu-nurse/
- “The Life of a Travel PACU Nurse (Post Anesthesia Care Unit).” Host Healthcare. 7 Sept. 2020. https://www.hosthealthcare.com/blog/the-life-of-a-travel-pacu-nurse/
- Brusie, Chaunie. “How Much Do Travel Nurses Make In a Year?” Travel Nursing. 25 Jan 2022. https://www.travelnursing.org/why-travel-nurses-make-more-money/