3 Steps to Becoming a Rehabilitation Nurse

5 Min Read Published September 20, 2023
Nurse helping older man rehabilitate in a hospital

Rehabilitation nurses work with patients suffering from acute and chronic illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. A rehabilitation nurse’s main objective is to help patients gain independence and/or help families care for their loved ones. In this guide, we’ll explain what a Rehabilitation Nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more!

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What is a Rehabilitation Nurse?

Generally, a rehab nurse assists patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Rehabilitation nurses can also work with individuals after a trauma or acute illness. 

According to the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses, rehab nurses can work with patients suffering from illnesses and injuries such as, 

  1. ALS
  2. Amputation
  3. Brain injury
  4. Burns
  5. Cancer
  6. Cardiovascular
  7. Cerebral palsy
  8. Guillain-Barre syndrome
  9. Parkinson's disease
  10. Major joint replacements
  11. Multiple sclerosis
  12. Organ transplant
  13. Pulmonary disease
  14. Spinal cord injury
  15. Stroke

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What Does a Rehabilitation Nurse Do?

Job responsibilities vary greatly amongst rehab nurses depending on the place of employment. More specifically, rehabilitation nurses perform a variety of nursing interventions, including the following:

  1. Assisting patients to achieve and maintain maximum function and independence
  2. Assisting patients to adapt to a new or changed lifestyle 
  3. Providing a therapeutic environment for patients, their families, and caregivers
  4. Educating patients, families, and caregivers about their disease and treatment plan
  5. Recording patients’ medical information and vital signs
  6. Preparing and updating nursing care plans
  7. Changing wound and/or surgical dressings
  8. Continually assessing the patient’s level of independence, injury, or disability
  9. Administering medications as ordered
  10. Performing tracheostomy care
  11. Administering blood products and enteral feedings via a gastrostomy tube
  12. Coordinating care with other healthcare professionals
  13. Lifting and transferring patients
  14. Determining if a patient is able to perform ADLs independently or with assistance 

Rehabilitation Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2022 is $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary. The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but Glassdoor.com reports an annual average salary of $78,519 for Rehabilitation Nurses.

Payscale.com reports salaries for Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurses. They found that the annual average salary was $71,347 or $31.49/hr

Specifically, Rehabilitation Nurses can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience.

  1. Less than 1 year of experience earns an average hourly wage of $29.39
  2. 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $29.85
  3. 5-9 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $31.26
  4. 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $34.72
  5. 20 years and higher years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $36.00

Currently, the highest average paid states for Rehabilitation Nurses that have reported salaries, according to payscale.com, are as follows:

  1. Dallas, Texas - $36.49/ hr
  2. Seattle, Washington -  $35.61/ hr
  3. Phoenix, Arizona - $32.11/hr
  4. Houston, Texas - $31.99/hr

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How Do You Become a Rehabilitation Nurse?

To become a Rehabilitation Nurse, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

  1. Attend Nursing School

    You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to becoming a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses can complete an additional step of completing their BSN degree if they wish. 

  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

    Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.

  3. Earn Your Certification

    The Association of Rehabilitation Nurses offers the Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurses Certification to eligible nurses. While not required, most nurses find this certification as a way to advance their careers. 

Where Do Rehabilitation Nurses Work?

The vast majority of rehabilitation nurses work in either outpatient or inpatient rehab centers. Rehab nurses can work in a variety of locations, including:

  1. Outpatient rehabilitation centers
  2. Sub-acute care units
  3. Inpatient rehabilitation centers
  4. Hospitals
  5. Long-term care facilities
  6. Assisted living facilities
  7. Home care agencies
  8. PT/OT offices
  9. Fitness facilities
  10. Medical offices
  11. Insurance companies
  12. Community centers
  13. Academic settings
  14. Government agencies

Regardless of workplace setting, full-time and part-time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution, most include the following:

  1. Health insurance
  2. Certification Reimbursement      
  3. Retirement Options
  4. Holiday Pay
  5. Family Leave of Absence
  6. Maternity Leave
  7. Dental Insurance
  8. Dependent health insurance coverage
  9. Life Insurance
  10. Paid time off
  11. Relocation assistance
  12. Childcare
  13. Bereavement leave       
  14. Vision Insurance        
  15. Discounts on extracurricular activities      
  16. Continuing Education Reimbursement
  17. Relocation packages
  18. Attendance at nursing conferences

What is the Career Outlook for a Rehabilitation Nurse?

According to the BLS, in 2022, there were 3,172,500 Registered Nurses in the United States. By 2032, there will be a need for an additional 177,400 nurses, which is an expected growth of 6%.

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Rehabilitation Nurse?

Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements, and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management. 

A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.

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Resources for Rehabilitation Nurses

Check out these additional resources for more information on rehabilitation nursing!

  1. Association of Rehabilitation Nurses
  2. American Nurses Association (ANA)
  3. The National Rehabilitation Association
  4. International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals
  5. The National Association of Rehabilitation Providers and Agencies
  6. American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association
  7. American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine
  8. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation Nurse FAQs

  • What is the role of a rehabilitation nurse?

    • The role of the rehab nurse will vary depending on work location. Inpatient and outpatient rehab nurses will have some similar functions but inpatient nurses will also be responsible for general nursing duties. Rehab nurses work in collaboration with other healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive rehab plans for their patients. 
  • Is rehabilitation nursing hard?

    • Nursing, in general, is a difficult profession. Regardless of specialty, nursing is a demanding but rewarding profession. Rehab nursing can be more physically demanding than some nursing specialties because of the patient population and needs of the patients. 
  • What certification does a rehabilitation nurse need?

    • The Association of Rehabilitation Nurses offers the Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurses Certification to eligible individuals. 

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Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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