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Written by Natalie Evenson, MSN, BSN, RN, SANE-A

Are you an experienced PACU nurse seeking a greater challenge or adventure? Our comprehensive guide will ensure you possess the education, skills, and certifications to succeed as a PACU travel nurse.

The Role of the PACU Nurse

The Post Anesthesia Care Unit, or PACU, is an exciting and fast-paced specialty. As a PACU nurse, you will care for patients with various surgical procedures each shift.

The acuity of patients will depend on the setting. An inpatient PACU nurse typically recovers patients of higher acuity than in the outpatient setting, who will be discharged home following surgery.

The PACU nurse monitors and cares for patients immediately after surgery until they are stable enough to either go to their inpatient room or be discharged home. The PACU nurse must have strong clinical assessment and documentation skills.

PACU Travel Nurse Education Requirements

Most facilities require at least one year of nursing experience in your specialty before you are qualified to travel. This ensures you possess the necessary skills to provide safe care. These are the basic education requirements to prepare you for PACU travel nursing:

  • Obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited program
  • Successful completion of the NCLEX exam and a current active and unencumbered RN license
  • Obtain one to two years of experience as an RN (usually in the specialty being hired for) before taking a travel assignment

Travel Nurse and PACU Certifications

All nurses must possess an active Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. Depending on the setting and patient acuity, the facility may also require Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS).

If you are seeking a travel assignment in a trauma center or a hospital setting with higher acuity patients, you may desire certifications such as Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN) or Certified Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN). Certifications increase your expertise and help you stand out as a candidate.

PACU Travel Nurse Settings

PACU nurses work in a variety of settings. Some PACU nurses work in acute care hospitals caring for patients who are currently hospitalized or will be admitted following surgery. Other PACU nurses work in outpatient facilities or ambulatory surgery centers.

Inpatient PACU

Depending on the hospital, the surgical department may operate 24 hours a day or only during business hours. Many larger hospitals, like trauma centers, have a staffed PACU at all times. Smaller hospitals may only perform emergent surgeries outside of business hours.

Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Centers

Typically, ambulatory surgery centers only perform surgeries during daytime hours and is closed at night, on weekends, and on holidays. In these facilities, patients arrive before surgery and will be discharged home post-operatively.

A Day in the Life of the PACU Travel Nurse

Depending on the setting, a PACU nurse will often provide pre-operative and post-operative care to patients. Pre-operative care involves prepping patients for surgery, inserting IVs, and assuring the patient has received any pre-operative medications or treatments, has proper consent forms, and is prepared to go to the OR.

PACU nurses are responsible for the following:

  • Closely monitoring heart rate, cardiac rhythm, blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and oxygen saturation
  • Monitoring for and treating pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Monitoring the surgical site for post-operative complications and communicating any issues to the anesthesia or surgical team
  • Identifying and managing complications, including postoperative delirium, bleeding, shock, hypothermia, respiratory depression, airway compromise, increased oxygen requirements, and adverse reactions to anesthesia
  • Providing psychosocial support to patients and families
  • Teaching patients and families about their surgical procedure, post-operative care, medications, and treatments

Tips For Success As a Travel PACU Nurse

Strong Assessment and Clinical Skills:

Immediately following surgery, the PACU nurse must closely monitor patients for adverse reactions from anesthesia and the surgical procedure. There is a high risk for complications during this time. It takes a skilled nurse to monitor and ensure a patient safely emerges from anesthesia while adequately managing pain and symptoms.

Strong Communication Skills:

PACU nurses work as an integral part of the perianesthesia team. Effective communication with anesthesia providers and the surgical team is crucial. PACU nurses spend significant time educating patients and families about their surgical procedures and post-operative care.


Travel nurses must prepare to float to other areas of the hospital. Some hospitals have separate inpatient and outpatient PACUs. Flexibility is essential, as you may be required to work in both areas as a travel nurse.

Considerations Before Taking a PACU Travel Nurse Assignment

  • Schedule: Will you have to work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays? Taking an assignment in an outpatient ambulatory surgery center could give you the advantage of only working daytime hours.
  • On-Call Requirements:  Will you be required to take on-call shifts, and how many per week/month? Inquire about the expectations, which vary by facility.
  • Patient Population: Will you be caring for only adult patients, or will you also be expected to care for the occasional pediatric patient? Make sure you are prepared for the patient population served. 

Learn More About PACU Nursing or Certification

Ready to take on the exciting, fast-paced environment of the PACU in the location of your choice? Medical Edge Recruitment will focus on matching you with the ideal assignment. We offer weekly direct deposit, health insurance options, retirement plans, and more so you can focus on providing excellent care.

Author Bio

Natalie Evenson, MSN, BSN, RN, SANE-A, is a health content writer. She has 25 years of experience in various areas, including Trauma, Neuro, Orthopedics, Critical Care, Emergency, and Perioperative nursing. She also works as an Adult and Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. When Natalie is not working, you can find her gardening and taking care of her animals on her mini farm. 


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