Each year, PeriAnesthesia Nurse Awareness Week is celebrated in February (this year from February 6-12) and highlights the nursing care and work provided by perianesthesia nurses.

Perianesthesia nurses work alongside a patient as they are preparing for or recovering from a procedure that requires sedation. Nurses in this specialty are dedicated to patient safety and are responsible for monitoring and assessing patients as they move through the preparation and recovery processes.

Patients are often nervous when they’re having any kind of procedure and some are particularly anxious about anesthesia. As they conduct their range of duties, perianesthesia nurses are gathering medical and personal information from the patient, working with the team on the sedation process, and also working one-on-one with the patient to connect with them and keep them as comfortable as possible.

Knowing the entire process will be easier for the patient and the healthcare team if the patient is as relaxed as possible, the nurse will use communication skills to find subjects that a patient wants to talk about and will continually steer the conversation to those areas. Does the patient love to fish or have vacation plans they want to talk about? Maybe they have a habit like knitting or skateboarding or writing the next great novel–perianesthesia nurses will use questions they fine-tune over their years of experience to find that out. As the patient goes under sedation, that conversation will be calming. And perianesthesia nurses are already looking ahead to the patient’s period of recovery post-procedure to once again revisit those familiar topics. As the patient begins to come out of sedation, the perianesthesia nurse will be there with them and assessing them head-to-toe for any potential problems. As they are checking vital signs and looking for signs of pain, they will be talking with the patient to bring them to a more alert state.

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As perianesthesia nurses are keeping a conversation going (even if it’s one-sided for a while), they will check to make sure the patient is breathing properly and that their vital signs are as expected, but they also use an extra level of awareness to look at everything from skin tone to muscle twitches to any indications of discomfort. Each patient will respond to anesthesia in a different manner, so these nurses will need to be aware of emotional changes or confusion as well as physical reactions including nausea or pain.

During pre- and post-procedure times, perianesthesia nurses must also extend that awareness to the entire area. As the patient’s advocate, they will be constantly monitoring equipment, surgical sites and dressings, and the patient’s comfort level.

And even though many people don’t realize the intense level of care they receive from a perianesthesia nurse, the care impacts their entire experience. Perianesthesia nurses will work after a procedure to communicate with the healthcare team about medications, recovery pace, or complications. They will need to conduct a comprehensive hand-off to the next nursing team if their shift ends before the patient is out of their care.

Perianesthesia nurses also communicate with families before the procedure to explain the process and what they can expect as the patient moves through the procedure and then they will communicate with them about post-procedure care, home care guidance, and expectations for recovery.

Perianesthesia nurses never have a typical day and that’s what appeals to many nurses in this specialty. They are committed to providing the best patient care and often continue their learning to achieve a certification through the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc. (ABPANC) or joining a professional organization like the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses to connect with and learn from other nurses in this role.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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