You may be wondering, what is PACU? Whether you are currently a nursing student exploring career paths, looking into the progressive care unit, or you are currently a registered nurse and interested in taking on new opportunities, working in the post anesthesia care unit (PACU) can be both exciting and challenging. 

To learn whether becoming a PACU nurse is right for you, we’ll outline some of the key responsibilities and PACU nurse skills you’ll need, the certifications and experience required for PACU nursing positions, and what your life as a traveling PACU RN might look like.

What is a PACU Nurse?

PACU nursing staff works in the post anesthesia care unit in a medical facility. The PACU, formerly known as a recovery unit or recovery room, is where a surgical patient goes following surgery. PACU Patients are placed in this until post surgery to wait for the anesthesia to wear off.

The PACU is typically attached or adjacent to the operating room in a medical facility. Typically a surgical patient entering the PACU is still under the effects of general anesthesia and is unable to respond to questions. PACU Patients in this state immediately following a surgical procedure are very vulnerable. The PACU staff must closely monitor the postoperative patient for any signs that their condition is worsening, and respond quickly if this is the case.

PACU Nurse Requirements

The basic qualifications for pursuing a PACU nursing career are as follows:

  • Current RN license in the state you plan on working in
  • Basic Life Support (BLS) certification
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification
  • Two years of clinical experience working in critical care nursing
  • Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN) certification (this PACU nursing certification is desirable but not necessarily required for some PACU nursing career assignments)

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What Are the Responsibilities of a PACU Nurse?

The basic responsibilities of a PACU nurse include:

  • Assessing the patient’s condition during the post anesthesia period
  • Monitor patients for changes in their condition, including vital signs, heart rate, breathing, respiration, and blood pressure.
  • Use a strong understanding of pain management and medications to help manage a patient’s postoperative pain
  • Manage nausea and other complications arising from anesthesia
  • Communicate clearly and effectively throughout patient care including, family members, and other members of the patient care team

Is PACU Nursing Considered Critical Care?

So what is the difference between PACU VS ICU? PACU nursing is one type of critical care that is commonly found in a hospital setting, along with other critical care units such as the intensive care unit (ICU).

The close relationship between PACU nursing and other critical care units is reflected in the fact that prior critical care nursing experience is often preferred for a PACU nursing career. 

How Many Patients Does a PACU Nurse Have?

The number of patients that a PACU nurse will be required to provide critical care for at any one time will vary. While only one state, California, has mandated nurse-patient ratios, PACU nursing staff generally care for relatively few patients at the same time. 

Also, keep in mind that PACU nurses must take care of individuals at different levels of their postoperative process. Typically a PACU nurse won’t have six patients exiting the operating room at the same time. Instead, patients enter the PACU in a staggered timeline. As a PACU nurse, you may be caring for two patients that have just exited surgery in between providing discharge instructions to a patient that is fully recovered. Being able to manage your time effectively and prioritize is an essential trait of a great PACU nurse.

How is Travel PACU Nursing Different?

Becoming a PACU traveling nurse is always an exciting transition that brings amazing opportunities, and traveling as a PACU nurse is no different. As a critical care nurse, traveling PACU nurses are always in high demand. 

So Why PACU nursing? Let’s take a look at some of the unique opportunities that arise in a traveling PACU nurse job:

  • Higher Pay – A traveling PACU nurse salary tends to be located at the top-tier for a PACU nurse salary pay range, and you may make even more if you work in states with a higher cost of living.
  • Expand Your Skills – Pushing your skills to the next level is one of the best perks that comes with becoming a PACU travel nurse. As a traveler, you’ll have the opportunity to work with some of the best critical care teams in the country. These are unique opportunities to learn new things and build your resume.
  • Flexibility – As a PACU travel nurse you’ll need to be comfortable diving into a new team and hitting the ground running. Given your critical-care experience, don’t be surprised if you get called off of the PACU from time-to-time. Being open to this can give you the opportunity to work on different units within the hospital, such as recovery room nurses, which is a great chance to build experience and explore alternative nursing career paths.
  • See New Places – Traveling is an unparalleled method of gaining the depth and breadth of experience you need to be competitive in the job market. Working as a travel nurse allows you to take a variety of different assignments and work with numerous different care teams. If you’re a recently graduated nursing student, traveling is often the best way to try out different nursing specialties before committing to a career path.

The life of a PACU nurse on assignment is fun, challenging, exciting, and fast-paced. No two days of work are the same. 

Starting Your Journey as a PACU Travel Nurse 

If you’re ready to begin your career as a traveler, there’s no better time than now. Critical care nurses are in very high demand throughout the country.

Our team at Host Healthcare is happy to answer any questions you might have about travel nursing. If you’re ready to become a traveler, our team will work closely with you to understand your career goals and help you find PACU travel nurse jobs that will allow you to achieve them! To learn more, contact us today.