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What is Rehabilitation Nursing?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Rehabilitation nursing is a branch of the nursing field which is focused on providing care to patients who have been incapacitated by injury or illness. The goal of the nurse is to participate in a treatment program which will allow the patient to regain as much normal function as possible, thereby improving quality of life for the patient. Rehabilitation or rehab nurses can be found working in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, clinics, residential care facilities, and home health care environments, and compensation in this field is quite varied.

People interested in a career in rehabilitation nursing must attend nursing school, and focus on rehabilitation during their nursing training. Many pursue additional training and board certification with a professional organization to make themselves more employable. Board certification proves that a rehabilitation nurse has passed an exam which tests nursing skills, and that he or she is committed to continuing education in the field and constant improvement as a nurse. Board certification can also allow a nurse to supervise other nurses or lead a rehabilitation team.

These nurses may perform many basic nursing tasks, like cleaning wounds, administering medications, assisting patients with bodily functions, charting, and coordinating with a medical team, but they also perform tasks which are specifically related to rehabilitation. For example, a rehabilitation nurse might help a patient learn to walk, eat, talk, write, or perform other tasks after an injury or illness which has impaired these skills. These nurses can also work with patients who are struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.

Rehabilitation nursing also includes patient education and empowerment. If a patient appears to be permanently consigned to a wheelchair after an accident, for example, a rehabilitation nurse will help the patient learn to use the wheelchair, and provide the patient with education which helps him or her live as independently as possible. Rehabilitation nurses also assist patients as they grow accustomed to prosthetic limbs, ventilators, and other assistive devices which may be required.

As part of a patient's care team, rehabilitation nurses work with other rehabilitation professionals to address the patient's specific condition and issues, and to develop a treatment plan which is appropriate for the patient. Some rehabilitation nurses choose to focus on a specific aspect of rehabilitation nursing, such as helping patients regain motor skills or assisting patients who need adaptive devices. Others in the field of rehabilitation nursing practice more generally, working with an assortment of patients and on a variety of cases.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon939329 — On Mar 13, 2014

I came here to do some research because I'm going into this kind of job that I will be handling for the first time. At first, I was reluctant to work in the rehab even though I don't have a choice, but after I had been through seminars like what most of the people here were talking about, I felt better. Being a rehab nurse is kind of a tough job but is rewarding when fully accomplished.

By anon334000 — On May 09, 2013

Where do physical therapists enter this story? Why would there be a specialization for nurses who makes or attempts to take on the work of physical therapists?

Is it one way to make nurses more employable or a way to steal the jobs of other classes, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy? Each in its proper place!

By bagley79 — On Apr 27, 2012

My mom worked as a nurse for many years before specializing in rehabilitation nursing. There is a shortage of nurses and it seems like nursing and rehabilitation homes often have a hard time finding good people for these positions.

She really likes the individualized care she is able to give a patient working as a rehab nurse. She has even more one-on-one contact than she did when she worked on the floor at the hospital, and this is the most rewarding part of her job.

It helps if a rehab nurse has had some psychology classes, as much of what you are doing involves knowing how to get people motivated. A rehab nurse can know what to tell someone, but it is just as important to know how to get them to do it.

By golf07 — On Apr 26, 2012

@sunshined - You are fortunate that the whole team of rehab nurses who helped your mom were so helpful.

My sister has had some mental health issues after receiving a brain injury from a car accident. She has worked with many rehabilitation nurses through her recovery, and while many of them have been very helpful, some of them should be working in a different field.

As far as being qualified to do the work, they meet the qualifications, but they certainly don't seem to have the right personality for the job.

My sister certainly has her favorite nurses, and there is no comparison to the way she responds to them compared to those who don't seem to care.

I wonder if they is any type of screening involved when someone is interested in becoming a rehabilitation nurse?

It is one of those areas that is not for everyone, and it would be nice if someone knew ahead of time they weren't very suited for that type of work.

By sunshined — On Apr 25, 2012

I have a lot of respect for the rehab nurses who worked with my mom after she suffered a stroke. These nurses were part of a home health care team who came in several times a week and worked with my mom.

After the stroke, she had trouble performing many daily living activities and their goal was to get her so she could live at home by herself again.

This took many months of persistent work and was not always easy - for my mom or for the nurses. The nurses showed a balance of compassion and firmness that was needed.

It would have been easy to give up many days, but they were the ones who kept encouraging her and knew just what to help her with each time they came.

Some days the help seemed to be more social and encouraging, and other days it was physical. If it weren't for the quality of rehab nurses who worked with my mom, she wouldn't be where she is today.

By honeybees — On Apr 24, 2012

My daughter is a rehabilitation nurse in a rehab facility that is part of a local hospital. She has found this to be a very challenging, yet rewarding career.

One of the most important things a rehabilitation nurse provides a patient is hope. In addition to helping them improve their quality of life, they are showing them things can be better than they are right now.

I think that can mean just as much to a patient who is in rehab than anything. It also takes special people to be a good rehab nurse.

Most anyone can go through the training and perform the specific duties, but it takes the right personality to be good at this day after day.

Many times the patients they are working with can be despondent and overwhelmed with the situation they find themselves in. A rehabilitation nurse can make all the difference in how fast and how well they recover.

By candyquilt — On Apr 24, 2012

@fify-- It does depend on where you get your certification from. The association I received my CRRN (Certified Registered Rehabilitation Nurse) certification from did have requirements.

You either had to have two years experience as registered nurse, or one year experience plus one year graduate level education.

So in that case, you are qualified but your friend is not. She'll need to work for two years and then apply. But two years is really not long.

Another thing to think about is that these certification exams usually take place once or twice a year tops. So find out the dates for the exams beforehand. You don't want to miss them and you might want to take some time to prepare too. Good luck, I'm glad you're considering comprehensive rehabilitation nursing. It's a rewarding career!

By fify — On Apr 23, 2012

I'm a registered nurse and have only been working for 2 years. Am I qualified to apply for a rehabilitation nursing certification?

Is there a prerequisite for nursing experience or can any registered nurse apply? I also have a friend who's a recent graduate and she's interested in becoming a rehab nurse as well.

If anyone can give us any information on this that would be great!

By bear78 — On Apr 23, 2012

I think that rehabilitation nurses do far more than what we realize and have a huge impact on the psychology of a patient after injury or illness.

Even if the patient isn't dealing with a psychological ailment, many patients feel depressed and become less sociable and negative after illness. The role of a rehabilitation nurse is not just care for them physically, but also to give them encouragement and hope for the future.

At the hospital I work, I've seen many cases where the rehabilitation nurse was able to get a child to speak again after a serious illness. They're usually the first ones to see patients smile again. I have great respect for rehabilitation nursing. What they do is so valuable.

By anon153610 — On Feb 17, 2011

This article has been very helpful for my research writing assignment. Much appreciation for the effort.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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