What Is a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Nurse? (6 Steps To Become One)

PACU nurses are highly trained critical care nurses who work in a hospital’s post anesthesia care unit (PACU). They care for patients who have just gotten out of surgery and are recovering from the effects of anesthesia.

In the United States, millions of surgical procedures are carried out annually. Whether major or minor, these procedures frequently involve a full team of medical specialists committed to returning patients to, or as close to, as new as possible. Nurses from the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) are frequently part of that team of medical professionals.

You were probably under the care of one of these experts if you have ever undergone major surgery or any other arduous medical procedure. We can help paint a much clearer picture of what a PACU nurse does, even though the majority of former patients may understandably have a vague idea of what they do. Continue reading to discover more about the nurses responsible for ensuring that their patients have a smooth exit from the operating room.

Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU): What to Expect

How to become a PACU nurse

The post-anesthesia care unit offers a variety of career options. The actions you can take to become a PACU nurse are listed below:

1. Train to become a registered nurse

Getting a degree to become a registered nurse is the first step in becoming a PACU nurse. There are a few ways you can become an RN:

2. Take the NCLEX-RN

You may be qualified to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses after receiving education. The exam is computer-based and lasts six hours. To pass the test, candidates must be able to respond to at least 75 questions in the allotted time.

3. Get a state license

You can become licensed to work as a registered nurse in the US by passing the NCLEX-RN.

4. Find a job as an RN

You can start working as a registered nurse in a medical setting once you have obtained a nursing license. RNs can work in clinics, hospitals, and facilities that provide outpatient care.

Registered nurses can work in critical care to gain experience with administering anesthesia, observing its effects, and caring for patients as anesthesia leaves their systems if they want to work in the post-anesthesia recovery unit.

5. Become a PACU nurse

Working as a nurse can frequently provide you with the necessary experience to work in the PACU. A number of nurses can spend a few years working in a hospital setting before specializing in post-anesthesia care.

Additionally, you can pursue additional education to focus on providing anesthesia patient care. You need to have at least 1,800 hours of clinical practice under your belt as a registered nurse to become a certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN). This can take about a year.

After that, you can sit for the CPAN exam to become certified to work as a PACU nurse. A CPAN nurse can maintain their eligibility to work in the post-anesthesia care unit by renewing their license every three years.

6. Continue your education

You can continue your education after becoming a PACU nurse to broaden your career options and income potential. There are a few routes you can take from the post-anesthesia care unit to advance your career.

A CRNA, also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, can be trained. These medical professionals monitor patients while they are under anesthesia and administer anesthesia. You can enroll in a specialized nursing anesthesia program after receiving a bachelor’s degree in nursing in order to become a CRNA. The time it takes to finish your education once you’ve been accepted into a CRNA program is up to three years. To start working as a CRNA, you must then pass an exam.

Alternately, you can acquire the training and competencies required to work as an operating room nurse. Nurses in the operating room can take care of patients before and after surgery. If you already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, you can become certified as an operating room nurse by obtaining a CNOR or CRNFA.

What is a PACU nurse?

A registered nurse with expertise in caring for patients after anesthesia is known as a post-anesthesia care unit nurse. They can make sure that people who are put under anesthesia for a surgery or other procedure can safely awaken from the anesthesia with their assistance.

PACU nurse duties

PACU nurses can have the following job duties:

Salary and job outlook for a PACU nurse

Skills for a PACU nurse

The following are some abilities that a PACU nurse can use in their career:

Clinical skills

The clinical competencies of PACU nurses range from general nursing skills to specialized knowledge of anesthesia. Registered nurses with post-anesthesia care training can become experts at attaching patients to devices that can monitor their vital signs. To successfully monitor patients after surgery, a PACU nurse should be able to read these devices. Additionally, PACU nurses are well-versed in the effects of anesthesia medications, enabling them to recognize complications and take prompt corrective action.


Nurses in the PACU can update patients’ families on their progress by speaking with them. Communication abilities can aid PACU nurses in having professional and reassuring conversations with patients and their families.

Bedside manner

Bedside manner is a medical professionals attitude toward a patient. When a patient has surgery, a PACU nurse is frequently the first person they see when they awaken from anesthesia. While patients are experiencing the effects of anesthesia, having a pleasant bedside manner can help PACU nurses keep patients at ease and comfortable.


Because they frequently care for unconscious patients, PACU nurses must be able to act quickly and independently in response to a patient’s vital signs in order to deliver quality post-operative care.


The post-anesthesia care unit can be a fast-paced environment. To care for numerous patients as they experience the effects of waning anesthesia, PACU nurses must be well-organized. Many nurses learn to multitask as they care for patients. Organizational skills can help them multitask while remaining focused.

Critical thinking

As patients awaken from anesthesia, PACU nurses can respond to their changing needs by using critical thinking skills. They can also solve issues like anesthesia complications using critical thinking. This can help PACU nurses perform their jobs successfully.


An operating room nurse and a surgeon can work together with a PACU nurse to create a post-operative care plan for patients. By working together, the PACU nurses can make sure they have all the pertinent information about a patient before they even enter the PACU.


How many years does it take to become a PACU nurse?

You need to have at least 1,800 hours of clinical practice under your belt as a registered nurse to become a certified post-anesthesia nurse (CPAN). This can take about a year. After that, you can sit for the CPAN exam to become certified to work as a PACU nurse.

Is PACU nursing a good job?

In comparison to the average career growth rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a much better rate of 12% growth in registered nurse employment from 2018 to 2028. PACU nurses should expect a similar level of growth. As a result, nursing is a desirable profession in terms of job security and future career opportunities.

How hard is PACU nursing?

With PACU nursing, you typically have patients for between 30 minutes and two or so hours. Most of the time, about 75 minutes seems about average. As a result, even if your patient is extremely difficult, demanding, or even annoying, they will leave before your frustrations can build up.

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