A perianesthesia nurse is a constant and steadying presence for anyone undergoing a medical procedure. This week’s PeriAnesthesia Nurses Week (February 1-7) acknowledges the nurses in this role and the work they do with patients in varied settings and under changing conditions.

Perianesthesia nurses are with patients throughout their entire procedure, although many patients don’t realize this. If you’re thinking about this career path, many nurses say they enjoy being a continuous presence for patients and enjoy being an advocate for them when they are not able to do that for themselves because they are sedated.

But nurses in this role also enjoy the close interaction with their patients. They gain satisfaction from being able to make their patients comfortable and less nervous about what’s happening. Perianesthesia nurses may not see their patients for a long time—the pre- and post-op when patients are most aware can be fast moving—but the impression they make is important. This career offers many choices where you can practice including hospitals, ambulatory care and day surgical sites, as well as pain management clinics.

According to the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses, perianesthesia nurses are committed to patient safety and so they are always assessing a patient to watch for any changes at all. They are also responsible for helping the patient wake up from sedation and so their pre-op routine is often an information gathering process. During their pre-op interaction, they are gaining medical history but they engage patients in casual conversations about things that may seem random but are actually very precise. During this pre-op, nurses are finding out about the patient and learning about topics they will be able to mention in post-op to help the patients gradually awaken and be soothed by a familiar topic.

What might perianesthesia nurses ask? They can talk about anything from the patient’s career to their pets. They ask about family members, hobbies, travel, movies, books, or favorite routines. Over time, this becomes a highly developed skill in perianesthesia nurses’ toolbox as each nurse is able to find a conversational style that checks all the boxes of information they need to gather. They learn the subtle approaches for people who are especially quiet or those who are agitated or those who may be scared.

When the patient is sedated, the perianesthesia nurse is a constant presence and watches and monitors both the patient and all the equipment for any signs of change or potential trouble. As perianesthesia nurses work, their skill set during procedures is also fine tuned. They are watching for all the steady vital signs on monitors, but they also scan the patient to look for any even less obvious signs or signals. They are watching skin tone and feel, listening to the breathing patterns, and noticing muscle movements or changes.

Then the nurse and patient will be in post-op as sedation wears off and the patient wakes up. The unpredictable nature of post-op is another situation perianesthesia nurses are ready for. As they are monitoring the patient, they use those nuggets of information they discovered in pre-op to help the patient get oriented. And for all the work they have done, perianesthesia nurses say that some patients may not remember their presence  or understand the nurse has been there the whole time.  So self-motivation is a big career skill—nurses in this role find meaning in helping patients and understand the situation might not lead to any recognition from the patient.

As with any nursing career, certification will help ensure you’re providing the best patient care possible. Perianesthesia nurses can find certification information through the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc. (ABPANC) where the Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN®) and the Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse (CAPA®) programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC).

If you’re a perianesthesia nurse, celebrate with your team this week and appreciate the difference you make for patients each day.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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