What Do Rehab Nurses Do

Posted by Shanna Shafer on May 29, 2015 1:47:10 PM

What Do Rehab Nurses Do?



When illness, injury, or other circumstances strike a person's life, they may be left with physical or mental disabilities that require special care and healing. Rehab nurses play an incredibly important role in the lives of patients and their families by helping them re-learn daily living skills and helping them adjust to the reality of their condition.

Learn more about this nursing specialty and then discover what rehab nurses earn in our Nurse Salary Guide.

Roles and Potential Roles

Rehab nurses may take on important roles in quite a few settings. They often work in hospitals, particularly in long-term care wings where patients recover from serious injuries. They may also work in nursing homes, helping residents live as independently as possible while keeping their safety in mind at all times. There are also a variety of outpatient rehabilitation facilities that utilize nurses in multiple roles.

Responsibilities/Demands of the Job

Patient care is the primary responsibility of rehab nurses. You may work as part of a team, made up of occupational therapists, medical doctors, and other medical professionals. Rehab nursing typically requires you to follow a patient's care plan and treatment goals. Each day, you may work with patients to help them reach these goals and assess their progress.

It's likely that you'll communicate frequently with doctors to evaluate a patient's progress and change their goals as needed. You will also provide significant patient education, connect patients and families with outpatient and community resources, and ensure that regular progress is being made toward specific goals of rehabilitation.


As you work in the field of rehabilitation nursing, you may find yourself drawn to a particular type of patient. By attending continuing education courses and choosing employment opportunities that specialize in your area of interest, you can develop a nursing specialty.

Some nurses may work well with patients with traumatic brain injuries, while others may do better with car accident victims.  You may find that cardiac rehab, for patients that have suffered a heart attack or undergone heart surgery, is your specialty. Regardless of the type of rehab patients you work with, you may develop special knowledge in treatment of long-term conditions or short-term conditions.


Before you can begin working in the field of rehab nursing, you need to meet certain qualifications. You need an Associate's degree or Bachelor's degree in nursing. Employers may also require you to complete specialized training in rehabilitation. Furthermore, you need a valid nursing license from your state's Board of Nursing.


You may be able to get the education you need at a two-year college or a four-year college. While an Associate's degree may be enough to work in this field, you may find that a Bachelor's degree provides more training in a rehab setting.


Certification is the same as it is for all registered nurses. You must become licensed through your state's Board of Nursing. This process can be complex, as it requires you to provide your college transcripts, pass the NCLEX-RN, and meet your state's licensing standards.

Salary Range

You may earn a wide variety of salaries as a rehab nurse. In fact, salaries in this field tend to vary between employers. To find out what rehab nurses earn in your area, download a copy of our free Nurse Salary Guide.

Get 200 Nursing Salaries Guide

Job Outlook for 2014 and Beyond

The job outlook is very positive for registered nurses. From 2012 to 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 19% increase in RN job openings. This is higher than average when compared to other occupations, so now may be a great time to start a nursing career (BLS, 2012).

Career Path

Rehab nurses may need to obtain experience in a generalized nursing setting before beginning to work in rehabilitation. After expressing interest in rehab nursing and shadowing another rehab nurse, a nurse may begin to work in this specialty.

Associations and Organizations


Rehab nursing can be a rewarding field if you want to see your work make a difference in the lives of patients every day. Use our Nurse Salary Guide to find a specialty you're interested in, and then start looking for schools in your area!

Topics: Career in Nursing