PACU Nurse: In-Demand Specialty for Travel Nursing Jobs

November 13, 2019

PACU nurses provide direct care to patients coming off of anesthesia following surgery, regardless of whether they’ve had general anesthesia, local anesthesia, or regional anesthesia. They work in both hospital settings and ambulatory care settings, observing and treating patients to ensure they emerge safely from the effects of anesthesia.

In 2012, the American Journal of Medical Quality published a report which projected a shortage of registered nurses extending from the year 2009 through 2030, including which areas of the country were likely to have the most significant impact. Those shortages mean facilities of all types are turning to travel nurses to be an integral part of their staffing strategies — PACU nurses are no exception.

RNs can earn up to $2,300 a week as a travel nurse. Speak to a recruiter today!

What is a PACU Nurse?

PACU (also known as Post Anesthesia Care Unit) nurses are the healthcare professionals who provide care for patients recovering from anesthesia in recovery rooms in hospitals, ambulatory care centers, surgical centers, and other medical facilities. Post anesthesia care units are generally adjacent to surgery suites, and they are the first step in helping patients go from surgery to recovery.

The PACU nurse’s role is to ensure patients’ vital signs are stable and meet the facility’s individual criteria for transfer to another inpatient care area or discharged and sent home.

Patients who are transferred from a surgical procedure to the PACU require constant monitoring of their vital signs, so PACU nurses need to be adept in their use of blood pressure and cardiac monitoring devices, as well as pulse oximeters and other oxygen devices. Patients receiving care in recovery rooms are transitioning from being under anesthesia to being conscious, and often struggle with postoperative pain, nausea, or other side effects from anesthesia.

PACU nurses are critical care professionals who possess extensive knowledge about devices including analgesia pumps, I.V. or epidural infusions, arterial lines, and central venous lines. They treat a wide range of patient conditions and must be familiar with the effects of the many medications used in procedures — ranging from minor cosmetic procedures to highly invasive or complex procedures. They need to be certified in advanced cardiac life support, be able to think quickly and critically, and be capable of communicating effectively with colleagues and physicians. Importantly, PACU nurses also engage directly with both patients and family members, providing emotional support, comfort, and information to both.

PACU Nurse Education Requirements, Certifications and Professional Groups

Every PACU nurse is a registered nurse — earning either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) — who has passed the NCLEX exam. The next step to becoming a PACU nurse is pursuing appropriate on-the-job experience. Some also apply for the certification exam for certified post-anesthesia nursing (CPAN), which requires a minimum of 1,800 hours of clinical experience.

Nurses who are committed to a career in post-anesthesia care and who want to establish themselves in the field can find like-minded colleagues in either the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses or the Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses.

PACU Nurse Salary and Job Growth Potential

According to, PACU nurses are among the six highest paid registered nurses. The median salary for a PACU nurse is $40.83 per hour, which translates into $84,926 annually. The most highly paid PACU nurse commands a salary of $95,000 according to, though compensation depends upon factors such as years of experience, medical setting, and geographic region.

The median salary for a PACU nurse is $40.83 per hour, which translates into $84,926 annually.

PACU nurses can assume the anticipated growth in the number of job openings for registered nurses will mean an ever-expanding number of job openings in their specialty area. When combined with the national nurse shortage, there is also expected to be increased demand for healthcare services in general, including surgical procedures that will benefit from the professional skills of PACU nurses.

The Pros and Cons of Being a PACU Nurse

PACU nurses take pride in their ability to meet patient needs and apply critical thinking skills. PACU nurses are usually responsible for multiple patients at once, which can be stressful.
Each case is different, which keeps the work interesting. PACU nurses are frequently required to work on-call hours.
PACU nurses work more regular schedules than many other types of nurse specialties. Often assigned to long, 12-hour shifts.

Travel Nursing as a PACU Nurse

PACU nurses are vital to the recovery of patients who’ve had surgeries ranging from critical care procedures such as open-heart surgeries and neurosurgery to local and regional anesthesia procedures who will return home in a period of hours. Growing staff shortages and constant short-term coverage needs mean facilities of all types will continue to need experienced, skilled PACU travel nurses.

PACU travel nurses earn salaries that are generally higher than those of full-time permanent staff nurses and have the added benefit of receiving benefits such as non-taxable living and dining stipends. PACU travel nurses will find a wide range of opportunities available across the U.S. in all types of medical settings.

RNs can earn up to $2,300 a week as a travel nurse. Speak to a recruiter today!

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