PACU Nurse Working In Post-Anesthesia Care Unit

PACU nurses work in a hospital's post-anesthesia care unit. They provide direct care to patients recovering from surgery and monitor their vitals. They often administer EKGs before surgery, assist ICU staff, and provide acute care during the postoperative period. 

According to, PACU nurses earn between $57,000 to over $140,000 a year (July 2022). We compiled the average salary of PACU nurses throughout the US and found the national median salary is $83,058.29.

What do PACU nurses do?

PACU nurses are part of the operative care team. They provide pre-surgical and post-surgical assistance to patients undergoing various procedures. They mostly work in hospitals, but they can also work in outpatient settings where patients undergo sedation or general anesthesia.

The PACU nurse tends to patients as they wake up from anesthesia and provide immediate interventions if they notice any complications from sedation.

Recommended Reading - What Is A Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Nurse (PACU Nurse) in The USA? 

PACU nurse salaries in the United States

How much does a PACU nurse make a year?

The average PACU nurse earns $83,058.29. According to, the lowest 10% of earners make $57,000 annually, and the top 10% of PACU nurses make $140,000 or more annually.

How much does a PACU nurse make an hour?

The average hourly wage for a PACU nurse is $39.93 per hour, though it is not uncommon for them to earn $40 to over $50 an hour in some settings. The hourly wage depends on many different factors, including years of experience, where they live, and any additional credentials or certifications. It’s important to keep this in mind when applying for positions in your home state and other locations. 

PACU nurse salary by state

How much do PACU nurses make in your state? See how local earnings compare to the national average.


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Factors that affect how much a PACU nurse makes

You can earn more or less than the national average as a PACU nurse based on some key factors. Consider:

1) Education and experience level

PACU nurses are specialized registered nurses who have passed the CPAN exam to become certified post-anesthesia nurses. PACU doesn’t hire new grad nurses as they lack the clinical experience necessary to provide the level of care vulnerable post-op patients need. 

If you are a new PACU nurse, you will likely be given a starting salary slightly below the average. As you gain more experience, then your earnings can increase. Experienced PACU nurses with 10+ years’ experience will earn the most.

2) Where you work

PACU nurses can work in hospitals or outpatient surgical settings. If you have at least two to three years of experience, you could become a travel PACU nurse and earn up to $5,000 weekly. In crises, a PACU travel nurse could make $10,000 to over $13,000 a month.

3) Location

Each state pays PACU nurses differently, but you can expect to earn more than a standard registered nurse on average. Being a PACU nurse means you have additional qualifications and specialized training in post-anesthesia recovery, making you an in-demand employment candidate.

4) Specialty

PACU nurses must have specialty experience, and most employers look for RNs with CPAN certification. CPAN stands for certified post-anesthesia nurse. You will care for patients in the post-anesthesia care unit, including phase 1 and phase II recovery rooms or outpatient holding rooms.

How quickly can you become a PACU nurse and start earning?

Before starting to specialize in post-anesthesia care, you’ll need to become a registered nurse. After you earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing, you can take the NCLEX and earn your nursing license.

Then, you can start gaining clinical experience so that you can sit for the CPAN exam. To take the CPAN, you must have at least 1,200 hours providing direct clinical care to phase 1 post-anesthesia patients.

Many employers hiring PACU nurses require 3 to 5 years of specialty experience. Depending on where you work, you could spend 4 to 8 years becoming qualified as a PACU nurse.

Recommended Reading - How to become a post-anesthesia care unit nurse (PACU Nurse) in The USA?

PACU nurse salary vs other nursing professions

If you’re curious about how your earnings may compare to other nursing professionals, here is a comparison to other professions similar to surgical nursing. Average PACU nurse salary: $83,058.29

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): $140,357.71

  • ICU Nurse: $84,281.06

  • Surgical Nurse: $76,757.41

  • Scrub Nurse: $73,366.94

PACU nurse salary FAQs

Am I being paid fairly as a PACU nurse?

Compare your PACU nurse salary to other nurses you work with and the national and state average. If you are underpaid, you have the right to ask for more compensation from your employer.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), every employee must receive at least minimum wage, plus one-and-half overtime pay for any work over 40 hours a week.

Given your specialized care and education, a PACU nurse should earn more than an RN in their state. They should also have additional pay for overtime during the week and holidays. 

Are PACU nurses paid mostly hourly or annually?

PACU nurses can be paid hourly or given a salary. They’re most likely to be paid hourly if they work in a hospital. Outpatient staff nurses are more likely to be paid salaries. However, hospitals can sometimes salary their nurses, so you should compare job listings and discuss benefits packages with potential employers. 

Do PACU nurses get paid overtime?

All PACU nurses are entitled to overtime. You should be given your hourly pay plus a half for any over 40 hours a week. If your hourly rate is $40 an hour, you should be paid $60 for overtime. 

How many hours do PACU nurses work?

Most PACU nurses work three 12-hour shifts a week. Some may take on an additional shift or two. However, no employer can mandate you work overtime except in critical care situations. As a PACU nurse, you would have to work overtime until another nurse arrives to relieve your duties. 

How much you can work per week as a nurse depends on your schedule and state. Employers cannot force nurses to work more than 40 hours a week, and nurses must be given 8 to 12 hours off after each 12-hour shift. Make sure you research the nursing laws in your state to avoid being unlawfully overworked. If you feel an issue may arise, speak with your supervisor about your concerns. 

Do PACU nurses get time off?

Yes, PACU nurses qualify for paid time off, vacation days, and sick leave like any other employee. You may have 12 to 14 days in paid vacation annually, earned over the year. 

As for the hours you work, time off can be during the day or overnight. PACU nurses are needed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so their schedules vary greatly. Some love working nights, while others prefer to have 12-hour shifts during the day. 

Do PACU nurses get paid more privately or in hospitals?

A PACU nurse can get paid more in a hospital setting because they tend to have more intensive care patients. Outpatient PACU nurses don’t work with patients in critical care or recovering from major operations.

What states pay PACU nurses the most per hour?

These five states pay PACU nurses the most.


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Can you live off a PACU nurse salary in the US?

According to the latest earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average PACU nurse’s salary is 49% higher than the median annual salary of $49,968 in 2022. 

Living in a metropolitan area can cost more, but it may also present greater job opportunities. If you work as a travel nurse, you can work less throughout the year and possibly double your PACU nurse salary. 

It’s also important to factor in the lifestyle you want to live, your outstanding debt, and your future financial goals. If you live in a city with a high cost of living, you want to consider moving or applying to a state with a high annual salary. 

The same holds if you live in a state with a low cost of living. If you want to earn a higher wage, you might consider moving to a state that offers more. 

The cost of living index can also help you understand how comfortably you could live off a mental health nurse’s salary in your state. Metropolitan areas have higher living costs overall, but they also tend to present greater job opportunities.

Find your dream nursing job

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A note about our data. We use the median of the data gathered from The BLS at and other salary data sources such as, and We believe that this is the best average to follow, rather than the mean or mode. The mean will find the average of all salaries in each state; the mode will favor the most frequently reported salaries. However, the median will find the middle. All data in this report will favor the middle salary from all ranges, which means 50% will fall below and 50% will be above the salary data reported below. On another note, we have removed data from Puerto Rico, Guam, and The Virgin Islands from the data we have sourced as we have focused on the 50 US States plus The District Of Colombia.

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