Rehabilitation Nursing: A Specialty In Its Own Right

Kate, a nurse who works on an adequately staffed acute rehab unit inside a specialty rehabilitation hospital, says, "This shift has been so busy!" She also adds, "I became so excited when one of my patients walked for the first time since the motor vehicle accident six weeks ago!" The purpose of this article is to discuss rehabilitation nursing, which is a specialty in its own right. Specialties Rehabilitation Article

Rehabilitation nursing is a fast-paced specialty that involves helping patients and their families deal with short-term, progressive, or long-term impediments and disabilities in ways that constructively facilitate the highest level of function possible. Rehabilitation nurses manage the care of patients, perform a wide array of nursing skills, respond to changes in condition, and bestow psychosocial support upon patients and their families.

In most rehabilitation facilities, the rehab nurse collaborates with physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, social workers, case managers, pharmacists, speech language pathologists, respiratory therapists, and other members of the disciplinary team to help patients deal with limitations in an adaptive manner, reach their full potential, restore their previous level of function, and maintain or increase modified levels of independence.

Rehab nurses provide care to patients across the life span with numerous afflictions and diagnoses. Patients who are recovering from strokes (also known as cerebrovascular accidents), heart attacks (also known as myocardial infarctions), pneumonia, multiple trauma, fractures, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and general deconditioning often end up on rehabilitation units.

Rehab nurses also care for patients who need extended recovery after surgical procedures such as knee replacements (also known as total knee arthroplasties), hip replacements, limb amputations, hysterectomies, back surgeries, coronary artery bypass grafts, colectomies, and laryngectomies. Patients who have chronic disease processes such as uncontrolled diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson's disease, morbid obesity, and exacerbation of congestive heart failure frequently receive care provided by rehab nurses.

Depending on the type of facility, rehab nurses may perform skills such as vital sign checks, intravenous therapy, wound care, continuous positive motion (CPM), range-of-motion exercises, administration of blood products, respiratory therapy, cardiopulmonary rescuscitation (CPR), ostomy care, and medication administration. Rehab nurses also help patients ambulate, provide education, demonstrate the use of adaptive equipment, and document all care that has been provided.

A person who wishes to become a rehabilitation nurse must have completed an approved nursing program. Licensed practical nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN) may secure employment as rehab nurses. Rehab nurses are employed at acute care hospitals, specialty rehabilitation hospitals, long term acute care (LTAC) hospitals, long term care facilities, and outpatient rehabilitation centers. They function as bedside nurses, case managers, nurse managers, chief nursing officers, supervisors, infection control nurses, wound clinicians, and nurse educators.

Certification in rehabilitation nursing is optional, but highly desirable. Registered nurses (RNs) are eligible to attain professional certification. A rehab nurse who has attained certification is called a certified rehabilitation nurse (CRRN). The Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board (RNCB) develops, administers, and evaluates programs for certification in rehabilitation nursing (ARN 10).

Rehabilitation nursing is a rewarding specialty that requires scientific knowledge, quick thinking, and a passion for helping people maintain or recover their independence. The rehab nurse is a multifaceted professional who encounters multiple challenges, triumphs, setbacks, and successes during the course of a routine shift. Therefore, rehabilitation nursing is a specialty in its own right.


I'm a CNA at a rehab hospital and I agree. Patients can make such a great recovery just from one day to another. I love seeing their happiness as they get to return home. They are so greatful. It is very rewarding.

I have worked in a med/surg setting for 2years and I am currently working in the trauma setting with no formal specialization as yet. I am considering becoming a CRRN and I am wondering how I can do so. It has been something I have been considering for the past two years. Any suggestions on where I can get experience?

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
I am considering becoming a CRRN and I am wondering how I can do so. It has been something I have been considering for the past two years. Any suggestions on where I can get experience?
The following types of rehab experience will count toward the CRRN (certified rehabilitation registered nurse) certification:

1. Acute rehabilitation floor

2. Post-acute rehabilitation floor

3. Subacute rehabilitation floor/unit

4. Skilled nursing facility rehab

5. Cardiac rehabilitation

Since you have trauma experience, I wonder if you stumbled upon this thread by mistake and are interested in the CCRN (critical care registered nurse) certification.

Specializes in 20 years experience in healthcare.

Thank you for writing this article. It was very informative. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for a new grad going into rehab? I want to review and learn all I can prior to beginning this new adventure. Thank you in advance for your response.