There are many different types of nursing specialties to choose from. One of the lesser-known specialties is the PACU nurse. PACU stands for post-anesthesia care unit. These nurses serve as caregivers for patients who undergo anesthesia.
In this blog, we will explore the following:
- What is a PACU nurse?
- What does a PACU nurse do?
- How do you become a PACU nurse?
- What skills make an excellent PACU nurse?
- How much does a PACU nurse make?
What is a PACU nurse?
Millions of people have surgery every year in the United States. Often, a PACU nurse is at their side, helping them through the process, whether they are aware of it or not. They help patients who are recovering from the side effects of anesthesia.
What does a PACU nurse do?
The PACU nurse oversees care for patients who are waking up from anesthesia. They primarily work in the post-anesthesia care unit of hospitals.
These nurses monitor a patient’s vital signs, check their level of consciousness, and look for any side effects from anesthesia. PACU nurses can administer pain treatment to the patients if they experience any adverse side effects from the anesthesia.
They work with a wide variety of patients and often with one or two patients at a time. PACU nurses work in a fast-paced environment and need to work quickly.
Additionally, PACU nurses must coordinate with the patient and family members on post-op care and advise them on medications to take and when to take them.
Specific responsibilities for PACU nurses involve:
- Monitoring post-operative patients’ state of recovery and consciousness from anesthesia and giving updates to the treatment team
- Checking vital signs to catch any malfunctions and provide an easy recovery
- Keeping dressings, bandages, etc., clean, dry, and safe
- Treating pain, nausea, and other post-operative symptoms of anesthesia and administering medication as prescribed
- Communicating with patients and family members on the post-operative care procedures and how to continue care upon discharge
- Updating charts, patient files, and medical records
How do you become a PACU nurse?
Becoming a PACU nurse takes specific training and education. In many ways, the path toward becoming a PACU nurse is a lot like registered nurses. However, there are a few ways that the career path diverges.
Step 1: Get a nursing degree
The first step toward becoming a PACU nurse involves meeting the educational requirements. Two options are to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN program can be completed in about two years at a community college. A BSN takes about four years at a college or university. There is an ADN to BSN bridge program that can help cut time spent in school.
Step 2: Take the NCLEX-RN
After graduating from college, the NCLEX-RN must be taken in order to receive RN licensure. This is a standardized test that covers eight principal areas of care. These areas include:
- Management of Care/Coordinated Care
- Basic Care and Comfort
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Physiological Adaptation
- Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
- Reduction of Risk Potential
- Safety and Infection Control
The test has a base cost of about $200 for a license in the U.S. The RN exam has a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. RNs have six hours to complete the test.
Step 3: Get a state license
After passing the NCLEX-RN, a nurse becomes eligible for licensure to practice as a registered nurse in the U.S.
Step 4: Find a job as an RN
After taking the NCLEX-RN exam and obtaining a state license, a nurse needs to find a job working as an RN. There are many different settings in which to work like hospitals, medical facilities, and doctor’s offices.
It’s suggested that RNs who want to become PACU nurses try and work in critical care to build experience monitoring the effects of anesthesia and caring for patients who undergo anesthesia.
Step 5: Become a PACU nurse
Often, PACU nurses earn a few years of service as general registered nurses before specializing as PACU nurses.
Additionally, a nurse can become certified to take care of patients under anesthesia. At least 1,800 hours of clinical experience must be accumulated as a registered nurse in order to become a certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN).
Once certification is obtained, a nurse becomes eligible to start practicing as a PACU nurse.
Step 6: Continuing education
As a nurse, it’s vital to continue learning no matter what specialty. Nurses are required to take continuing education classes to maintain their state licenses. Some states have requirements that need to be met between one and three years.
There are myriad opportunities for PACU nurses to develop and expand their careers. Many PACU nurses decide to become certified registered nurse anesthetists. This is an advanced practice position and requires significantly more education. However, it comes with a bump in pay and more autonomy.
What skills make an excellent PACU nurse?
A PACU nurse needs to have several critical soft skills to perform their job well.
Communication: PACU nurses often speak with the patient and family members about the patient’s post-op status. They need to communicate clearly and reassure the family members that their loved ones are in safe hands.
Detail-oriented: As a PACU nurse, it’s essential to keep tabs on crucial details when taking care of multiple patients simultaneously. Remembering dosage levels for different patients and keep things organized can be very helpful.
Critical thinking: PACU nurses need to have necessary solid thinking skills to solve any complications when a patient undergoes anesthesia. Also, they need to know how to help patients with their various needs properly.
How much does a PACU nurse make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PACU nurses make approximately $80,010 annually. Their salary does depend on other factors such as location, education, and experience. However, that’s the median salary for PACU nurses.
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