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5 Activities Nurse Anesthetists Perform in the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit)

Career News August 19, 2013

Opportunities for nurses to progress in their careers include advanced degrees in management, as well as advanced degrees as a physician extender in areas such as post-anesthesia care nursing. While most positions can be lucrative and rewarding, a position as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) provides opportunities in locations such as hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, doctor’s offices, as well as consulting positions in all of these locations.

The role of a nurse anesthetist is well defined and integral to every stage of a surgical procedure from planning to recovery. Responsibilities include care for the patient prior to surgery, during surgery and post-anesthesia care nursing. Prior to and during a surgical procedure, the CRNA will assure that all pre-operative care instructions for the patient are followed, as well as assisting the surgeon and anesthetist in evaluating the patient’s condition and developing and administering a plan for the type of anesthesia to be used, along with monitoring the patient’s condition during surgery.

Post-Anesthesia Care Nursing Responsibilities

Once a surgical procedure is completed, the care of the patient is transferred from the surgical staff to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) staff. One of the only professionals whose responsibilities continue from one unit to the other is the Nurse Anesthetist. Their post-anesthesia care nursing responsibilities include, but are not limited to the following list:

Vital Signs – The CRNA will monitor the patient’s condition throughout the process of recovery. From body temperature to heart rate to blood oxygenation levels referred to as oxygen saturation, the nurse anesthetist will assure that the correct medications are prescribed and delivered to maintain healthy vital signs.

Condition – As the patient recovers from anesthesia, the nurse anesthetist will assure that a plan of care is delivered that addresses the patient’s condition including comfort, pain level and nausea. Medications, patient positioning and other factors are adjusted at the Nurse Anesthetists discretion.

Report – As post-anesthesia care nursing is being delivered by the Nurse Anesthetist, the CRNA is also delivering a report on the surgical procedure and current status of the patient to the PACU nurse who will take over responsibility for the patient in the recovery process.

Post-Op Instructions – Post operative instructions will include post operative care medications, diet, positioning, monitoring alerts, medical devices, contact instructions, as well as adherence to standing orders that are in place both for common and specialized procedures. Standing orders are established to save time and streamline care.

Transfer of Care – Once the patient’s condition and post operative care instructions have been relayed to the PACU staff and all immediate questions regarding the patient have been answered, the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist will transfer care of the patient. Often their responsibilities do not end at this point, and the CRNA will make themselves available by pager or phone for any issues that may arise throughout the patient’s recovery process.

The Nurse Anesthetist takes on many responsibilities throughout the surgical process from preliminary evaluation to recovery. They perform tasks both as an extension of the anesthesiologist, as well as the nursing care staff. The overlap of responsibilities not only strikes the importance of their position, but is vital to the transfer of information and delivery of care throughout the surgical process.

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