How to Become a Rehabilitation Nurse

If you are interested in joining collaborative teams of healthcare professionals, consider becoming a rehabilitation nurse. Rehab nurses help patients regain strength and resume their lives after an accident or illness. Specializations, such as gerontology, offer growth opportunities as Americans age.

This page provides guidance on how to become a rehabilitation nurse, including education, licensing, and work experience.

What Is a Rehabilitation Nurse?

Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with short- and long-term disabilities. They often join teams of professionals that may include psychiatrists and occupational, physical, and speech therapists.

Becoming a rehabilitation nurse means working in varied settings such as hospitals, nursing facilities, and rehabilitation centers.

Responsibilities include formulating, coordinating, and executing care plans, educational resources, and discharge plans. Rehabilitation nurses assist patients with mobility, help newly diagnosed patients adjust and adapt, and provide daily medical care, such as catheters and feeding tubes.

Steps to Becoming a Rehabilitation Nurse

Becoming a rehabilitation nurse encompasses three steps: obtaining a nursing degree, getting licensed as a registered nurse (RN), and earning an optional, but valuable, specialty certification in rehabilitation nursing.

Rehabilitation nurses need an RN license to practice. The minimum education for licensure is an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a two-year track that trains nurses in basic medical care. Those interested in starting with higher-level skills and pay can opt for a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

RNs and ADN-holders can accelerate their paths to a BSN through RN-to-BSN bridge programs, which take 1-2 years. Non-nursing degree-holders can also pursue accelerated BSNs.

Armed with an ADN or BSN, graduates take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to qualify for RN licensure. The NCLEX-RN tests nursing competencies in safe and effective care, health promotion and maintenance, and psychosocial/physiological integrity.

Rehabilitation nurses can choose to pursue their certified rehabilitation registered nurse (CRRN) credentials, which demonstrate specialized experience, knowledge, and skill to patients and employers.

Qualified applicants need an RN license and either: 1) two years of RN practice rehabilitation nursing, or 2) one year of rehab nursing practice and one year of advanced practice, post-baccalaureate nursing study.

Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Rehabilitation Nurse Education

An ADN is the quickest path to an RN license and becoming a rehabilitation nurse. Aspiring nurses might opt for BSNs and, later, advanced credentials like master’s degrees, graduate certificates, and doctorates.

ADN Degree

If you are interested in a shorter, less expensive educational path, an ADN qualifies you for RN licensure. This degree allows you to enter the workplace sooner.

This option means working through the ranks from entry-level RN positions to on-the-job rehabilitation nurse training. Increasingly, employers prefer or require BSNs, but an ADN can gain you RN experience and prepare you for an RN-to-BSN program.

High school diploma or GED certificate; prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, math, and humanities; transcripts with a 2.0 GPA; ACT or SAT scores

60-75 credits covering the nursing profession, health assessments, microbiology and immunology, and patient population care

Two years

Basic nursing skills, communication, critical thinking, and organization

BSN Degree

If you do not mind spending four years in nursing school, consider a BSN. With a BSN, you can enter the workforce with advanced RN skills and a broader general education.

Plus, a BSN can offer more opportunities and higher pay. A BSN also paves the way to enter graduate nursing programs, which can increase your expertise, responsibility, and salary.

High school or college transcript with a 2-5-3.0 GPA; prerequisite courses in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, and physiology; ACT or SAT scores; resume or CV

120 credits that include leadership and management, nursing informatics, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and research and statistics

Four years

Case management, clinical and leadership skills, community participation, adult and pediatric nursing care

Rehabilitation Nurse Licensure and Certification

RN licensure requirements vary by state, but baseline eligibility criteria include an undergraduate nursing degree from an accredited or state-approved program, a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam, and a background check.

Renewal happens every two years or so, and requires some form of continuing education, such as coursework, contact hours, or certification.

Optional CRRN credentials from the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN) can boost employment prospects, career advancement, and earning potential. Eligible RNs have two years of rehab nursing practice or one year of practice and one year of post-baccalaureate nursing study.

Working as a Rehabilitation Nurse

Rehabilitation nurses find employment in hospitals providing rehab care and services, as part of home healthcare teams, and at rehabilitation centers working with and advocating for patients and families.

Nursing students complete clinical rotations at healthcare facilities, including sub-acute care and long-term acute care units in hospitals, inpatient and outpatient rehab centers, and nursing facilities.

Making connections with staff at your clinical sites can help you find employment after graduation. Tapping into alumni networks and taking advantage of mentoring services at your school can also lead to jobs.

Average rehabilitation nurse salaries range from $72,290 per year for RNs with rehabilitation skills to $89,000 for CRRN-certified nurses, according to June 2022 Payscale data.

The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey (Table 37) reports median annual earnings for rehabilitation nurses at $65,000. Location, workplace, industry, and education level contribute to how much rehabilitation nurses make.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Rehabilitation Nurse

How long does it take to become a rehabilitation nurse?

Becoming a rehabilitation nurse depends on which degree you pursue. An ADN takes about two years to earn, a BSN an average of four years. Those already licensed as RNs, but who need a BSN, can complete their programs in as little as a year.

Are rehabilitation nurses in demand?

A recent ARN report points to continued demand for rehabilitation nurses to assist patients with long COVID rehabilitation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment growth rate for rehabilitation nurses to be much faster than the average of 9% for all RNs during 2020-2030.

Is becoming a rehabilitation nurse difficult?

Becoming a rehabilitation nurse takes about the same level of study and clinical training than other RN specialties. Nursing school is rigorous, requiring focus to learn topics like anatomy, medical terminology, and patient care procedures. Clinical rotations may require long hours, often 8- to 12-hour shifts, on top of studying.

Do rehabilitation nurses get paid well?

The range of rehabilitation nurses salaries according to sources like Payscale, the BLS, and ARN extends from a median wage of $65,000 to an average wage of $89,000 for certified rehab nurses. Your experience, the state and work setting in which you practice, and your degree level factor into pay rates.

Page last reviewed July 14, 2022

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