How to Become a Rehabilitation Nurse

Learn about the many opportunities for rehabilitation nurses.

rehabilitation nurse engages with elderly male patient

Rehabilitation Nurse At a Glance

What you’ll do: Once you’ve become a rehabilitation nurse, you’ll specialize in helping patients of any age recover from debilitating injuries or chronic illnesses. In addition, you’ll provide essential support to patients and their families or caregivers as they move from health care facilities back into their daily lives.

Minimum degree you’ll need to practice: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Certification: If you hold a registered nursing degree and have two years of experience in rehabilitation nursing, you qualify to sit for the Rehabilitation Registered Nurse certification exam that the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses administers and earn a Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CNNR) certification.

Median annual salary: $77,460*

Career Overview

A rehabilitation nurse follows a philosophy of care based on helping restore patients to active, independent lives. Among their job tasks, rehabilitation nurses create individual care plans that establish rehabilitative goals for patients, educate patients or caregivers on restorative care, and collaborate with specialists regarding patient conditions.

As the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN) describes, rehabilitation nurses take a holistic approach in helping patients meet not just their medical needs, but also their educational, environmental and spiritual needs so that they can fulfill their maximum potential.

Rehabilitation nurses work as administrators, case managers, researchers and educators in the following settings:

  • Freestanding rehabilitation facilities
  • Specialty hospitals
  • Long-term acute care facilities
  • Home health care agencies
  • Clinics
  • Schools
  • Private practice

Rehabilitation Nursing Education

Rehabilitative nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who typically hold at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and demonstrate not just the medical knowledge to do the job, but an extraordinary level of patience, innovation and teamwork. Many nurses choose to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in order to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). And the advantages of earning your MSN include not just advancing your knowledge of rehabilitative nursing but broadening your career opportunities.

While certification is not required for the job, after two years of experience in rehabilitation nursing, you qualify to sit for the Rehabilitation Registered Nurse certification exam that the ARN administers. Rehabilitation CNSs who have one year of relevant practical experience can also take the exam.

Career Outlook

Technological advances, an emphasis on preventive care and a number of other factors contribute to the anticipated growth of the nursing profession. And advanced practice nurses, such as certified rehabilitation CNSs, will be needed to fill vacancies in clinical practice and in nursing education as a result of experienced nurses retiring or simply leaving the profession.

Sources:;;; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.