PACU Nurse Salary and Career Opportunities
By Vonda J. Sines
Post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurses are specialized professionals. These registered nurses (RNs) provide intensive observation and treatment of patients who have undergone anesthesia. They are also known as perianesthesia nurses and recovery room nurses.
According to the University of Utah Health Care , caring for the most vulnerable patients requires expert clinicians who have topnotch critical thinking and communication skills. These nurses must work at a fast pace, support an interdisciplinary medical team, and be flexible with scheduling.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 19 percent increase in the number of RN jobs between 2012 and 2022. A boom in PACU nurse openings should parallel or exceed this, primarily because of the aging U.S. population and passage of legislation that makes health care more readily available.
Median 2012 RN yearly pay was $65,470, or $31.48 an hour. PayScale indicates that RNs with recovery/PACU skills can earn up to $40.83 per hour or $62.15 for overtime.
With a bonus and profit sharing, total annual compensation could reach $88,410. According to salary.com, the median salary of a staff RN working in a recovery room is $76,581.
Paths to Increase PACU Nurse Salary
All PACU nurses are RNs. Qualifying for this specialty begins with earning an RN designation via an associate’s degree in nursing, a bachelor’s in nursing, or a hospital nursing diploma program. Graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to be eligible for licensing as an RN.
Working in a PACU is seldom the first job for an RN. The best educational choices are courses in anesthesia-related care or opting for a perianesthesia concentration if a nursing curriculum offers it.
PACU nurses have many ways to increase their compensation. Those who have logged at least 1,800 hours of relevant experience are eligible to apply for certification, according to the Campaign for Nursing’s Future . The Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN) designation and the Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse (CAPA) certification are awarded by the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc .
The path to clinical advancement could include becoming a clinical nurse specialist or a nurse anesthetist. Management positions like nurse manager, supervisor, or director of nursing mean increased salary. Nurses who earn a master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing sometimes elect to become nursing educators.
PACU nurses can also increase their salary by working as travel nurses. Employers commonly offer financial assistance for relocation and housing with long-term assignments. Another option is working as a per diem nurse, which involves accepting short-term shift work.
PACU nurses have skills that translate well to other specialties. Here are three that might be of interest:
- ICU nurses care for acutely and critically ill patients and assist their families. This specialty requires mastering rapidly changing technology. PACU nurses’ experience dealing with patients still in critical condition after anesthesia blends easily into an ICU setting. See open ICU nursing positions .
- Operating room nurses care for individuals immediately before and during surgery. PACU nurses have insights about surgical patients’ needs that are valuable in the OR nurse specialty. Apply now for an OR nursing position near you.
- Sub-acute nurses provide services more intensive than long-term care but less intensive than acute nursing. Many of these patients have brain injuries or are elderly and require 24-hour supervision. The close monitoring required after anesthesia is a good fit with sub-acute nursing.
Where are the best PACU Nursing Jobs?
High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As a PACU nurse, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve.
Vonda J. Sines is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC area. She specializes in health/medical, career, and pet topics and writes extensively about Crohn's disease. Her work has been published at EverydayHealth, Lifescript, womansday.com, Yahoo! Health, Catholic Digest, Angie's List Health, and on many more sites.