Nursing responsibilities in a post-anesthesia care unit

Written by jennifer sobek
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Nursing responsibilities in a post-anesthesia care unit
The PACU nurse is responsible for numerous things in the post-operative patient, including taking vital signs. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

A post-anaesthesia care unit, or PACU, is a short-term intensive care unit that is used for patients who have just come out of surgery and are recovering, or coming out of, from being under anaesthesia. The PACU is staffed with specially trained nurses who must demonstrate specific responsibilities in patient care.

Vital Signs

The PACU nurse is responsible for taking a patient's vital signs following surgery, including blood pressure, respirations, lung sounds and pulse. This means having proper training and knowledge for all related equipment, including blood pressure monitor, cardiac monitoring, pulse oximeter and other oxygen devices. For example, for a patient who requires cardiac monitoring, the PACU nurse must know how to connect the patient to a cardiac monitor (typically a 12-lead) and how to interpret the results. The vital signs are typically recorded every 5 to 15 minutes until the patient's vital signs are stable and at pre-admission levels. When this occurs, the patient is either moved to a room to be admitted to the hospital or discharged home.

Pain Management

A large part of the PACU nurse's responsibilities lies in pain management for the post-operative patient. This means having knowledge of pain medications and their effects, as well as knowing how to properly administer them. Sometimes, the post-operative patient requires a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) pump and IV fluids or infusions. The PACU nurse must know how to set up the PCA pump, as well as instruct the patient in how to use it.

PACU Safety

Taking care of post-operative patients isn't the only responsibility of the PACU nurse. Maintaining a safe environment, not just in the PACU, but hospital-wide is also important. This means knowing the correct safety procedures, including proper handling of hazardous material or waste. The PACU nurse must also be aware of proper fire safety procedures. Additionally, the PACU nurse is also responsible for knowing the location and proper use of personal protective equipment, including latex gloves, masks and goggles.

Maintaining Proper Certification

The PACU nurse's most important responsibility is to maintain proper certification. This includes keeping up with certifications in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and if applicable, paediatric advanced life support (PALS). Additionally, nurses are also required to take CEUs (continuing education units), which help in maintaining their nursing certification.

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