What is a PACU Nurse and What Do They Do?

Nurse or doctor with stethoscope examines patient in hospital
Nurses working in the Post Anaesthesia Care Unit (PACU), or ‘recovery’ are responsible for caring for patients immediately following a surgery or procedure involving anaesthetic.
PACU nurses care for patients of all ages and can deal with a range of patients. The type of patients a PACU nurse sees will depend on the type of surgery being undertaken. The patient type is also dependent on the facility and the services it offers. Day surgery PACU nurses may be dealing with patients who have had short procedures requiring light anaesthetic while in larger hospitals PACU may be dealing with ICU patients or trauma patients undergoing lengthy surgery.

PACU nurses assist with post-op pain management, nausea and vomiting, observations and occasional airway emergencies. Surgeons may order follow-up pathology to be done on a patient in recovery so it could involve taking blood or organising x-rays. Nurses working in PACU may also be required to work in pre- and post-op, preparing patients for surgery, or discharging them.

The pros and cons of working as a PACU nurse

Because PACU nurses typically spend a short time tending to patients before they are moved from recovery to a ward they don’t get to form relationships with their patients. This can also be a con for nurses who enjoy seeing a variety of patients. Shifts can vary depending on the hospital or facility, nurses working in PACU in a trauma hospital may be required to work night shift while other hospitals require PACU nurses to be on-call. Nurses currently working in PACU state that last minute add-on surgeries can be a challenge, as well as not knowing what might come out of theatre next.
Nurses report the pros of working in PACU are not being distracted by visitors as family is usually not allowed in PACU, although a parent is often present in recovery for paediatric patients. Despite the short time spent with patients, PACU nurses often say they enjoy being able to focus on one or two patients at a time. PACU nurses also enjoy the collaborative nature of the unit, and working closely with surgeons and anaesthetic staff. PACUs are sometimes described as short stay ICUs and some nurses who have worked in both say PACU is everything they love about ICU without the things they dislike.
The role of a PACU nurse involves a high level of responsibility. Those looking to work as a PACU nurse are recommended to have good assessment skills and be comfortable with pain management. Critical care, ICU, or emergency department experience is often a requirement for nurses wishing to work as a PACU nurse as the role sometimes involves respiratory instability, cardiovascular issues, or post-operative bleeding.
HealthStaff Recruitment currently has a range of positions available for those wishing to work as a nurse in Australia. Check out our nursing job board to see if there a role to suit you.