What Is PACU Nursing Like?

Working as a nurse in a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) is considered by some to be the 'best-kept secret' in nursing. Many nurses come to PACU nursing because they're seeking more traditional hours and work shifts, a better work-life balance, or because they're burned out from the fast-paced and stressful nature of working in the emergency room (ER). 

If you're considering a career in a post-anesthesia care unit, this blog post will walk you through what PACU nursing is like and what to consider during your decision-making so you can confidently determine if this nursing specialty is the right one for you. 

Considerations Before Choosing PACU Nursing

Pursuing the path to becoming a PACU nurse will take time and energy—so you should be confident about your decision before becoming a registered nurse and then pursuing jobs in the post-anesthesia care unit. The below list outlines critical aspects of work life to consider before becoming a PACU nurse:

  • What is your ideal work schedule? Being a PACU nurse will require flexibility regarding your schedule since your shifts are scheduled around surgeries. Depending on the surgery schedule, you may be asked to come in early or stay late. Your shift may be canceled entirely as well, although this only happens occasionally. 
  • What is your ideal workload? PACU nurses typically have only two patients under their care at once (and sometimes you may only have one patient in your care), as per the American Society of Anesthesiologists guidelines. This ratio is vastly different from working as a floor nurse, where you may have six to ten patients under your care at once. PACU nursing may be a good fit if you're keen to take on a more manageable patient ratio (although not necessarily an 'easier' one). 
  • What is your ideal work pace? If you enjoy an adrenaline rush, PACU nursing may not be the best fit for you. Working in the recovery room tends to have a quieter, slower work pace than other nursing specialties, such as emergency room nursing or intensive care unit (ICU) nursing. However, if you're not busy in the PACU, you may be requested to support the health teams in the ICU or other units. 
  • Are you comfortable with routine? Working in a post-anesthesia care unit means you'll always be supporting patients as they recover from anesthesia, which involves routine tasks, including monitoring patients, treating patients' pain or other symptoms of anesthesia, and administering medication. If you're looking to master a few skills and thrive in routine environments, PACU nursing may be a great fit. However, if you prefer greater diversity in your everyday tasks, you may be inclined to pursue a different nursing specialty with a broader range of everyday tasks. 
  • How much responsibility would you like to take on? According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, a physician is responsible for discharging patients in the PACU. However, when the physician is not present or accessible, a PACU nurse may discharge the patient if they meet the criteria. In these cases, the nurse will note the name of the physician accepting responsibility for the patient. 
  • Are you open to pursuing additional education or training? If you're a registered nurse, becoming a PACU nurse typically requires certifications such as Basic Life Support (BLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). PACU nurses may also wish to pursue specialized PACU certifications to feel more confident in the care they offer and give themselves a competitive edge.
  • What work environments do you prefer? In the PACU, you'll work closely with a medical team involving other nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other doctors. You won't be working with the broader range of health professionals that other nurses tend to work with, such as dieticians, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, etc. In addition, consider the working relationship you'll have with patients. Given their state following surgery, opportunities to interact with patients are quite limited. If you're someone who enjoys bonding with patients and supporting them for longer periods of time, you will not have the opportunity as a PACU nurse to form bonds with patients when they're in the recovery room, nor are they likely to remember you. If this sounds like a dream because you enjoy the behind-the-scenes work of helping patients recover, a career in PACU nursing may be ideal.  


Final Thoughts on What PACU Nursing Is Like

If you think PACU nursing is a great fit for your desired lifestyle and career goals, you can learn more about this nursing specialty in Nursa's Ultimate Guide to Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Nursing. The guide is packed with information on PACU nursing, from details on the certification process and how long it takes to our best tips for when you're new to the job as a PACU nurse. 

If PACU nursing doesn't seem the right fit, keep exploring. There are dozens of specialties to choose from as a nurse, and our Ultimate Guide to Nursing Specialities provides comprehensive information on specialties, including behavioral health nursing, acute care nursing, endoscopy nursing, dialysis nursing, and much more. 

Looking to pick up a high paying, per diem shift while you explore which nursing specialty is right for you? Download Nursa’s healthcare staffing app today to browse nearby opportunities and pick up shifts that fit into your ideal schedule.

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