Top 7 PACU Nurse Interview Questions

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Written by Danielle Roques, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A team of PACU nurses looks pleased as they check a recovering patient's chart.

Post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurses, also known as recovery nurses, care for patients immediately after surgery. They monitor vital signs, treat pain, and assess for anesthetic and post-operative health complications. More than 64 million surgeries are completed each year in the U.S., putting PACU nurses in high demand.

If you need to hire a new employee for this role, asking well-written PACU nurse interview questions can help you choose the best candidate for the job. In this article, we’ll walk you through seven questions that are frequently asked during PACU nurse interviews. We’ll also outline great responses to listen for and provide you with a list of follow-up questions you can ask to clarify a nurse’s answer.

Before starting the hiring process, it’s helpful to get insight into the recovery nurse job market. Referencing our PACU nurse job board can help you research competitive salaries, benefits packages, and scheduling options to offer prospective candidates in your PACU nurse job description.

7 Interview Questions for PACU Nurses

Once you’ve enticed nurses with your job description, it’s time to write your PACU nurse interview questions. Use this as an opportunity to gain insight into a candidate’s motivations, behaviors, and clinical experience.

Incorporating a variety of PACU nursing scenarios, in addition to behavioral and team-based interview questions, can give you a well-rounded picture of each nurse candidate. Here are seven recovery nurse interview questions — and answers to listen for — to get you and your hiring team started.

1. What made you interested in PACU nursing?

Start the interview with an introductory question to get a better understanding of a nurse’s personal and professional background. Many PACU nurses have previous experience in emergency or intensive care settings. While you may be familiar with this information from a candidate’s resume or cover letter, directly asking PACU nurse interview questions like this one can help you see their ability to professionally communicate.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • What PACU patient populations have you worked with in the past?
  • How does your experience prepare you for this particular role?

2. Describe three elements of a high-performing PACU team.

Great teamwork is essential in all healthcare specialties. PACU staff need to be able to delegate, communicate, and establish clear roles to provide safe and appropriate post-operative care. A candidate may respond to behavioral PACU nurse interview questions like these with answers like:

  • “Great teamwork requires flexibility and adaptability to meet patients where they are.”
  • “It’s important to be able to debrief after a poor patient outcome or stressful situation.”
  • “Great teams communicate clearly and encourage employees to speak up if they don’t understand what needs to be done.”
  • “Strong teams have defined leadership that oversees clinical operations and ensures quality care.”
  • “Strong teams are made up of reliable and trustworthy staff committed to improving patient health and wellness.”

Knowing that a nurse has the skills and experience required to contribute to your clinical team gets you one step closer to choosing the right candidate.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • What skills and attributes do you bring to a team?
  • Have you ever been a part of a dysfunctional team? How did you work through the challenges?

3. How do you take care of patients who are in pain after surgery?

Now that you’ve gotten to know the candidate, it’s time to get into some PACU interview scenario questions to see how well they can think on the spot. Recovery nurses need to be able to assess for, identify, and treat acute and chronic pain in their surgical patients. Asking this question can let you know whether they have the necessary experience to care for your patient population.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • Let’s say a patient is still suffering after you provide them with pain medication. What would be your next steps?
  • What non-pharmacological pain relief strategies have you used in the past?

4. Tell me about a time that you were able to provide comfort to an anxious patient or family member.

Being in the hospital can be stressful for patients and their loved ones. PACU nurses who take the time to relieve a patient’s fears help to make the entire surgical experience more positive. Empathetic, patient, and compassionate nurses can help your team improve patient satisfaction and engagement scores — these are the clinicians you want on your team.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • What would you do if a family member’s anxiety spiraled into aggression? How would you keep your coworkers and patients safe?
  • How do you cope with your own stresses and anxieties when providing patient care? What techniques do you use to find peace when things get tough?

5. How would you provide discharge instructions to a patient who is unwilling to follow the recommended treatment plan?

PACU nurses are required to provide discharge teaching everyday. This responsibility becomes complicated if a patient refuses to accept the instructions or doesn’t want to complete the rehabilitation necessary for optimal outcomes.

Understanding why patients are noncompliant with medical guidance is the first step to improving patient outcomes. Strong and compassionate nurses know that there are many barriers to following a healthcare treatment plan and are able to approach these hesitant patients with patience and respect.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • How do you tailor discharge teaching to meet individual patient needs?
  • What techniques do you use to provide culturally competent care?

6. Do you have any nursing leadership experience?

Nurses who step up for leadership roles are dedicated to improving the patient experience and encouraging clinical excellence. Their efforts often boost employee retention and improve patient health outcomes, making them incredibly valuable to the facilities they work for.

It’s important to remember that leadership experience isn’t limited to bedside nursing. Many RNs started their careers as medical assistants, LVNs, or CNAs. Make sure you don’t exclude these candidates, as they may demonstrate the ambition and drive you’re looking for.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • Have you ever participated in any PACU quality improvement or evidence-based practice initiatives?
  • Do you have any experience precepting new graduates or experienced staff? What do you think makes a good preceptor?

7. What excites you most about joining our team?

Ending with this PACU nurse interview question shows candidates that you want to get to know them as a full person, not just for their nursing knowledge or bedside expertise. Encourage them to have a bit of fun in answering, and share ways your facility promotes work-life balance for your employees.

After asking your final question, it can be helpful to listen to clarifying questions a candidate may ask as the interviewee. Nurses who ask targeted questions during an interview show their excitement and interest in the position and demonstrate that they’e done their research on your facility. A nurse who has invested significant time and effort into securing the position is more likely to stay with your company for a longer period of time.

Follow-Up Questions:

  • Working in our PACU can be tough. How do you plan to rest and recover on days off?
  • Do you have any other questions for me before we finish up?

We Can Help You Hire the PACU Professionals You Need

Now that you’ve written great PACU nurse interview questions, you’re well on your way to hiring an exceptional employee. If you need to find qualified candidates to apply, we’re here to help. Quickly reach highly qualified nursing professionals today with a free posting on our nursing job board.