Being A Rehabilitation Nurse

What Is A Rehabilitation Nurse?

A rehabilitation nurse works with two types of patients:

  • Patients who have a chronic illness that restricts their activity
  • Patients who have suffered a severe injury

The primary duty of the rehabilitation nurse is to help those patients recover from their ailment and reach their full potential. This is achieved by working closely with the patient and the patient’s family to create a plan for recovery involving short- and long-term goals. The aim is to help the patient achieve the maximum amount of independence possible. Because you are likely to spend long periods of time with the same patient, you will have the opportunity to form lasting bonds with each person who comes under your care.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

Although there are a wide variety of different tasks involved in being a rehabilitation nurse as there are many overlaps with general nursing, the three main duties that set this specialty apart are as follows:

  • Your primary role will be to show patients how to adapt to temporary, or permanent, disabilities. This has a practical/physical as well as psychological dimension.
  • There are a number of rehabilitation challenges that must be faced and overcome in the process, so one of your main duties will be to prepare the patient as well as the patient’s family for these challenges.
  • Above all your duty as a rehabilitation nurse is to help your patient return to his or her daily life as it was before the illness or injury occurred. Although this cannot always be achieved, it is still a goal worth striving towards.


When it comes to employment as a rehabilitation nurse, there are a number of options available to you. The most common places for a rehabilitation nurse to be employed in are:

  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Long-term acute care or sub acute care facilities

Rehabilitation Nurse Requirements

As with any advanced nursing specialty, there are several requirements that one must meet in order to become a rehabilitation nurse. To begin with you must earn the appropriate degree, namely a Nursing Diploma, Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Then you must get a position as an entry level rehabilitation nurse. This can be done by taking courses in rehabilitation or getting an internship at a rehabilitation facility. The next step involves successfully passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) that will allow you to work as a registered nurse (RN). At this point you have two options:Rehabilitation Nurse

  • You can either work as a Registered Nurse for at least two years in rehabilitation nursing, or
  • You can receive one year rehabilitation nursing experience and one year of advanced study.

The next step involves getting your rehabilitation nurse certification from the Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board (RNCB) through the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN), which will, finally, allow you to be a Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN). This will need to be renewed at set intervals.

Personality Traits

The main personality traits that are desirable in this line of work are:

  • Patience: This is a trait that is desirable in all nurses, including rehabilitation nursing. Note: patients in rehabilitation programs are often uncooperative or feel like giving up.
  • Flexibility
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Patient and family education: As it is your responsibility to educate patients and their families on homecare strategies, a natural ability to teach others will be very helpful in this line of work.
  • Innovative thinking

In addition to the above, physical fitness is also a desirable trait to have as you will need to actively work with patients on a daily basis.

Educational Requirements

To be a rehabilitation nurse you will need to be an RN with either an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Although both will allow you to work towards the goal of being a rehabilitation nurse, it is important to note that employers tend to be more interested in hiring nurses that have a bachelor’s degree, as more advanced qualifications often indicate more advanced skill sets. Consequently, if you have the opportunity to freely choose which degree you will do, a bachelor’s degree in nursing is the better educational goal to strive towards.


In order to become a rehabilitation nurse you must pass the NCLEX-RN examination, which is the licensing examination that all Registered Nurses, or RNs, in the United States must take before they can practice in this capacity. You will not be able to become a rehabilitation nurse if you only hold a licensed practical nurse (LPN) license. Licensure is earned in the following way:

  • Firstly you need to enroll in an accredited nursing program in your area that will allow you to become an RN
  • Once you have completed this program, you must apply for licensure with your State Board of Nursing
  • Once your eligibility for licensure has been confirmed by the Board, you will set an examination date with Pearson VUE, the company that administers the NCLEX-RN
  • Your State Board of Nursing will inform you in due course whether or not you are licensed
  • Licensure must be renewed on a regular basis

How To Become A Rehabilitation Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

There are a number of advancement opportunities available to nurses who pursue a career in rehabilitation nursing. You could, for example, go on to become a case manager, a researcher, an educator, a nurse practitioner, or a clinical specialist, each of which comes with an increase in responsibilities as well as in pay. In addition, there are subcategories of rehabilitation nursing that you could choose to specialize in. For example, you could specialize in cardiac rehabilitation where you would be responsible for assisting patients in recovering from heart-related conditions and surgical procedures.

Source An Accredited Education Program

It is extremely important that you complete your undergraduate nursing training through an accredited program. You will be unable to take the NCLEX-RN examination if it is not accredited. You can confirm the accreditation status of a school in the following ways:

  • The school itself should provide you with this information, but their claims should always be confirmed just to be safe.
  • Nurses who are currently employed in health care facilities must have completed training at an accredited school, and can therefore point you in the right direction.
  • The third and most reliable method for ascertaining the accreditation status of a school is to enquire with your State Board of Nursing. The Board often provides a list of accredited program in your state on their website, and you can also ask them about a specific school that you are interested in.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

Although a bachelor’s degree is usually preferred, and often even required, before a nurse can become certified in rehabilitation, it is possible to earn an associate’s degree as a stepping stone to achieving your career goals. An associate’s degree will allow you to work as an RN and gain experience in general or rehabilitation nursing. When considering associate degree programs, make sure that you apply for more than one option as this will greatly improve your chances of being accepted. Have a clear understanding of what you are personally and practically looking for in an associate’s degree program as this will make your final decision easier when it comes time to enroll. By meeting all of the course requirements, both theoretical and clinical, you will earn an associate’s degree.

Obtain Your Licensure

In order to become a rehabilitation nurse you will need to become certified. This is done through the Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board (RNCB) of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN). In order to qualify for certification you must first become an RN and then work for two years in a rehabilitation setting as a registered nurse in an entry level position. Alternatively, you can elect to gain only 1 year of experience, provided you also complete a one year advanced training program in rehabilitation nursing. For more information about this certification, please contact the RNCB:

Rehabilitation Nurses Certification Board
(800) 229-7530
(847) 375-4710

Online/Distance Education Programs

While searching for nursing programs you may notice that there are several online and distance education schools offering tuition of this kind. Provided that you make arrangements to complete your clinical training through another facility or school, online programs can alleviate your burden in two key ways:

  • You will not have to compromise your current job in order to study, and your time will generally be more flexible
  • These programs are often far cheaper than traditional classroom-based learning options

As with traditional schools, it is important that you check the accreditation status of any online school that you are interested in. Generally speaking, it is better to enroll in a school that also offers traditional face-to-face classes, or one that makes provisions for your clinical training by being affiliated with a health care institution of some kind. Overall, you need to be more careful as there are, unfortunately, several dishonest online nursing schools out there that will waste your time as well as your money should you enroll in them.

Job Outlook

The nursing profession is one that is, and always has been, on the increase regarding the number of jobs that are available in the field. This is due in large part to technological advancements in medicine, allowing more illnesses and injuries to be treated by medical professionals, and an increasing emphasis on preventative care, a role that nurses are able to fill easily. As a result any career in nursing has excellent employment prospects for the future. In addition to clinical practice, rehabilitation nurses also have the opportunity to fill roles in education, increasing their job prospects considerably. As rehabilitation nurses are required to undergo basic nursing training during their undergraduate program, they are also, therefore, eligible to seek employment in other nursing settings where specialization in a certain area is not a requirement and where they will be able to engage in general health care. As a rehabilitation nurse, all of your bases will be covered and you will have numerous employment opportunities. According to

“There is not only a need for rehabilitation nurses in the athletic and progressing senior citizen populations, but also in the everyday people population—full of people recovering from injuries and surgeries”.


According to the average salary that you can expect to earn as a rehabilitation nurse is $52,000 a year. If you compare this to related occupations you will soon realize that it is not a bad salary at all:

  • A registered nurse only earns about $50,000 a year (on average)
  • A nurse practitioner, who has a master’s degree and is therefore far more advanced than a rehabilitation nurse, only earns about $8000 more a year than a rehabilitation nurse at $60,000
  • A nurse manager, who is in charge of a number of other nurses, earns only $6000 more on average than a rehabilitation nurse at $58,000 a year
  • A physician or doctor earns less than double of what a rehabilitation nurse is eligible for on an annual basis at about $102,000

Rehabilitation nursing is one of the specializations in nursing that do not require advanced education in the form of a master’s degree. The salary that you will be eligible to earn once you have sought certification in rehabilitation nursing is worth the effort that you put in. In addition, there are several advanced career opportunities that you could pursue after becoming a rehabilitation nurse. Each of these come with salary increases as well as professional respect. This line of work is suitable for patient people who are willing to devote long periods of time to assisting the same patient achieve his or her rehabilitation goals.

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