Nursing specialty profile: Becoming a recovery room nurse

November 28, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

Meeting the nurses on the wards in Chiang Mai Patients who undergo surgery, usually do not go straight to their hospital room or home. They usually have a stop in the recovery room, where they are cared for by a recovery room nurse.

The recovery room is also called the post-anesthesia care unit or PACU. After surgery, patients are still under the effects of medication given during surgery, such as anesthesia. Anesthesia can lead to complications including a decreased respiratory effort and a slowed heart rate. In addition, immediately after surgery patients may be at risk for problems, such as bleeding or issues with blood pressure. Because of the potential complications, close monitoring is needed before patients can be moved to another unit.   

Job duties of a recovery room nurse

Nurses who work in the recovery room care for patients after various types of surgery. Some facilities have separate recovery rooms for cardiac surgery patients, since they may require different post-operative care than general surgery patients.

As soon as the patient arrives in the recovery room, the PACU nurse starts monitoring the patient’s condition. Nurses measure vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen level. In some instances, they may perform tests, such as electrocardiograms to check the patient’s heart rhythm.

Recovery room nurses also administer medication and check surgical wounds for bleeding. As the patient continues to recover, nurses determine when the patient is stable enough to be transferred to a hospital room or discharged home, if it was a minor procedure.  


Educational requirements

If you are interested in working in the recovery room, you need to complete an accredited registered nursing program. Two and four-year programs are available. A state licensing exam and background check are also needed to work as a registered nurse.

Most hospitals require a recovery room nurse to have at least a year of experience before working in the specialty. Working in the emergency room or intensive care unit is good preparation for working in the PACU. An optional certification in perianesthesia nursing may be earned through the America Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification.


Strengths needed

All areas of nursing require good assessment skills, but nurses in the recovery room have to be extra diligent about monitoring patients. Nurses who work in the PACU also need to be able to multitask. They may have several patients coming out of surgery at the same time. Since minor changes in vital signs can signal the start of a complication after surgery, nurses should also be detail oriented and quick to respond.


Opportunities and salary

Most nurses who work in the recovery room work in hospitals or outpatient surgery centers. Nurses who work in outpatient centers will generally work during the day and early evening. In a hospital environment, surgeries happen around the clock, so working hours may include overnight shifts.

Salary depends on the area of the country you live in and your qualifications. According to a 2013 survey by Salary Expert, the average salary for recovery room nurses ranges between $70,000 and $100,000 annually.