Travel Nursing January 23, 2020

By  Debra Wood, RN, contributor

The Truth Behind PACU Nursing

Nurses practicing in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) care for post-op patients as they regain consciousness after receiving anesthesia. PACU nurses work in both inpatient and outpatient facilities. The PACU is a fast-paced environment, one in which nurses must always remain prepared for an emergency. 

Inside the Life of a PACU Nurse

In an interview with Terry Clifford, MSN, RN, CPAN, CAPA, FASPAN, a PACU nurse for 28 years and Nurse Liaison for Special Projects at the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses, she expressed, “The thing that’s most appealing to me is that it is a real privilege to take care of patients when they are really vulnerable.” She continued on with passion and stated, “This is the best job ever. You can really help comfort, teach and support someone through the process.”

The Skills a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Relies On

PACU nurses must possess strong assessment, observational and organizational skills to successfully provide the highest quality care. PACU nurses are inevitably flexible and compassionate to their recovering patients. In some facilities, PACU nurses also care for patients recovering from catheterization lab or interventional radiology procedures. This specialized field is expected to demand more nurses in the coming years, as an aging population requires more surgeries and other procedures.

Nurses practicing in a post anesthesia care unit oversee patients and assess their status to ensure they are safely regaining consciousness.They monitor and look for any signs of difficulty breathing, raising blood pressure or agitation.

While anesthesia has become safer, Clifford explains, “The risk of a serious complication remains ever present.” Furthermore, she stated,“The challenge is maintaining your skills in the event of emergencies, and most of the time our patients do really well.”

The PACU nursing specialty is considered critical care, although,some organizations will hire nurses without a critical care background and train them. Hospitals and facilities look for nurses who possess strong critical thinking skills and have the ability to communicate with their patients in a calm manner while maintaining effective communication with the surgical team.

Current Standards for Nurses Monitoring Post-Op Patients

The American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses sets clinical standards for nurses working in this specialty, here are a couple to name:

1. Nurses should have advanced cardiac life support and pediatric advanced life support credentials, if working with children.

2. Nurses must remain constantly vigilant as patients wake up from anesthesia.

As more routine operations move to outpatient or ambulatory surgery centers(ASCs)and physician offices, PACU nurses have more opportunities to work in settings without weekend or on-call hours. Hospital surgery departments, typically, have nurses on call for emergencies. In the United States, the Health Industry Distributors Association projects ASCs will grow to at least $52 billion by 2025. These facilities tend to be located in urban areas. 

Additionally, the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification offers certification in PACU nursing and for pre-operative nursing, which is often desired by employers.Institutions with Magnet designation or working toward Magnet prefer nurses with certification. 

“It’s recognition for advanced practice in a specialty area,” Clifford said. “There are nurses who do it just because. It’s a feel-good experience to confirm what you know.”

“Many hospitals are cross training PACU nurses to also work in pre-op settings. Some nurses do not want to do both, which makes for a somewhat difficult change,”Clifford added.

“It’s an opportunity to be flexible in core staffing and still meet the needs of our patients,” she confirmed.

For nurses currently working in a hospital with an operating room looking to transition into the PACU, nurse managers would suggest before making the decision,to shadow a nurse to get a better feel for the work environment,if the opportunity is available.... The on-hands experience would be insightful and helpful.

The American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses offers opportunities to learn more about the specialty through webinars, conferences and the chance to network locally and on a national level.

“Perianesthesia nursing is the best kept secret in nursing,” Clifford said. “Once you are here, you either love it or decide it is not for you.”

The Opportunities Offered in PACU Travel Nursing

PACU travel nurses can choose an assignment from dozens of openings across the country. It gives travelers the chance to explore new regions, new facilities and new ways of experiencing life. It also offers the opportunity to make new friends and working with some of the most prestigious doctors. 

Hospitals and ambulatory care centers require one to two yeas PACU experience,basic life support, advanced cardiac life support,and pediatric advanced life support credentials. Some hospitals prefer nurses with travel nursing experience.

Pay for a PACU travel nurse varies, depending on demand, season, and the nurse’s experience and certification. A PACU travel nurse can earn up to $37,817 on a 13-week assignment with American Mobile. Travel nurses also can choose free furnished housing or a housing allowance and a stipend for meals and incidentals. 

Become a PACU Travel Nurse

If providing recovering patients with skilled and compassionate care during the week, and having weekends to explore a new city sounds enticing, then PACU travel nursing is the job for you.

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