Rehabilitation Nurse

A rehabilitation nurse is a nurse who assists in restorative activities of patients in orthopedics, neurology or drug rehabilitation. Patients who have had strokes or brain injuries require neurological rehabilitation, patients who have sustained broken bones need orthopedic rehabilitation and patients addicted to drugs or alcohol need drug or alcohol rehabilitation. A rehabilitation nurse may work in a hospital, drug rehab, specialty clinic or skilled care nursing facility by helping a patient to gain independence.

Rehabilitation nurses help chronically injured patients reach their full potential by following plans of care instilled by physical therapist, neurologist, speech therapists, psychologist and other specialist. The goal is to help patients become independent by reaching small-term and long-term goals. Family participation is an important part of patients’ therapeutic process which aides in their confidence and well-being. A rehabilitation nurse working in a drug rehabilitation unit will collaborate with a licensed drug rehabilitation counselor on a regular basis. Rehabilitation nurses who work on orthopedic units learn how to care for fractured hips, broken extremities and other muscular skeletal injuries patients have sustained. The follow thru with exercises ordered by a physical therapist and encourage patients to do as much as they can independently.

Three Types of Rehabilitation Nursing Careers:

  • Neurological: Registered nurses who work as a neurological rehabilitation nurse care for patients who've experience injuries of the nervous system. This includes patients who’ve experienced infections such as meningitis or encephalitis. They also care for patients who experience frequent headaches, seizures, neuralgia and other problems concerning the nervous system. Neurological rehabilitation nurse may work in specialty clinics, skilled nursing care facilities or on neurological units in hospitals.
  • Drug and Alcohol: A drug and alcohol rehabilitation nurse help and support patients who have addiction problems change their lives. They teach them positive ways to stay sober to prevent relapsing. Drug rehabilitation nurses monitor patients who are going through withdrawal and teach patients coping skills needed to succeed in life. These nurse may work in rehab clinics, in a doctor’s office or in a hospital drug rehabilitation unit.
  • Orthopedic: Orthopedic rehabilitation nurses must become expert in caring for patients who are in casts as a result of fractures. They monitor their neurologic status and monitor therapies such as continuous motion therapy (CMT). Hip fractures are very prevalent in the United States with the elderly population and account for many patients on an orthopedic rehabilitation unit. Orthopedic rehabilitation nurses work in rehab units in a hospital, skilled nursing and long-term care facilities.

Education Requirements

In order to becoming a rehabilitation nurse, a student is required to attend an Associate degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree program. After successfully completing  the program, he/she must sit for the NCLEX exam for licensure.

In order to become a director or manager of a rehabilitation unit or center a registered nurse must attain a Master's of Science in nursing degree.


After working for a certain amount of hours on a rehabilitation unit, a registered nurse can test to become a certified rehabilitation nurse. Certification demonstrates commitment to excellence in caring for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Certification is attained through the Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board (RNCB) and has to be renewed every five years after completing a certain amount of continuing education units.

Job Description & Duties

The following are a list of basic job descriptions that apply to a rehabilitation nurse. Descriptions will vary according to type of rehabilitation a nurse is practicing in:

  • Rehabilitation nurses assess patients and develop nursing plans of care to meet their medical needs.
  • Administer medications and collaborate with physicians about their prognosis and treatment.
  • Collaborate extensively with physical therapist, social workers and occupational therapist.
  • Coordinate and attend interdisciplinary meeting to discuss patients’ progress and make changes to plans of care.
  • Perform dressing changes and other procedures for patients who have undergone surgery.
  • Suction patients who have had tracheotomies and perform trach care.
  • Monitor patients' vital signs and report changes in their health status to a physician.
  • Administer enteral feedings to patients that are not to have any food orally and administer IV medications.
  • Administer blood products as ordered by physician.

Job Outlook and Salary

The median salary for a rehabilitation nurse is $66,000. Salaries may be more or less depending upon experience and geographical location. Career outlook for rehabilitation nurses is good since the population is aging and requiring more health care. Changes in health care reform are also creating more job openings for rehabilitation nurses since the focus is on restoration and independence which ultimately reduces healthcare costs.


Association of Rehabilitation Nurses:

Written by

Carrie Cronkite BSN, RN

Carrie has been a registered nurse for 14 years and works at a local hemodialysis outpatient center. She has experience in cardiac nursing, orthopedic rehabilitation and [...]