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Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse – Degree Requirements and Career Info

Higher Education Articles October 17, 2013

A Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse, or CPAN, takes care of patients immediately after surgery or any other procedure that requires anesthesia. A registered nurse receives extra education in anesthesiology before getting a job as a CPAN, but the work pays off in a higher salary, pleasant working conditions and a high degree of satisfaction.


A Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse attends to the physical needs of patients who may be still recovering from or under the effects of anesthesia, and works as a patient educator and advocate while the patient is under the effects of anesthesia. These professionals work with ventilators, multi-drug IV drips, and other sophisticated equipment that may come with the postoperative patient. After surgery, the patient may be in an unstable condition and quickly fall ill– the CPAN has special skills to assess the patient’s condition and respond quickly and appropriately to any complications the patient may encounter.

Work Environment and Duties

A Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse works indoors in a hospital or outpatient surgical center in a clean, quiet and comfortable environment. These nurses usually work regular business hours, but since people can need emergency surgery at any time, CPANs can usually find evening, night or weekend shifts to fill.

CPANs work as part of highly diverse surgical team including anesthesiologists and surgeons, but each nurse is individually responsible for the health and well-being of her patients. CPANs not only must have a solid understanding of nursing and anesthesia, but also have strong people skills since they frequently work with anxious patients and their worried families.

The CPAN monitors the patient’s condition as he wakes up from the anesthetized state, tends to his physical needs and answers any questions the patient may have. This nurse also acts as a patient advocate while he recovers from anesthesia, communicating with doctors or family members on the patient’s behalf.

Requirements and Education

Any registered nurse with an unrestricted license can pursue a career as a Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse. To be eligible for certification, the nurse must have spent at least 1,800 hours working directly with anesthetized patients. These hours may include direct care with the nurse performing medical duties for the anesthetized patient and indirect care, working as an educator or counselor with the patient or his family.

Nurses then register to test for certification during spring or fall registration windows. The examination periods last six weeks, and do require a fee. Successful completion of the examination results in certification that is valid for three years. CPANs can recertify by re-taking exams or by working with patients directly or indirectly for at least 90 hours.

A Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse must be able to think on her feet in highly stressful situations. The CPAN must know how to work with ventilators, multi-drug intravenous drips and other sophisticated instruments that may come out of surgery with critical care patients. This position can be physically demanding entailing a substantial amount of standing, walking and positioning of patients.

Salary and Career Outlook

Certified Post Anesthesia Nurses enjoy a salary of about $87,000 per year, usually with a generous health and benefits package. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for nurses in general to grow 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, “faster than the average for all occupations.” Nurses with advanced education, especially CPANs, will certainly be in high demand.

A career as a Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse is a rewarding choice for anyone who enjoys helping people, using cutting-edge medical technology, and working in a clean and controlled indoor environment. Working as a CPAN brings a nursing career to a whole new level.

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