A Day in the Life: Physical Rehabilitation Nurse

A Day in the Life: Physical Rehabilitation Nurse

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as a nurse in physical rehabilitation? Here are the basics that you need to know.

Adam Francis, MSN, RN, Director of Nursing at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – Bartram Campus , took time to answer our questions. 


Adam Francis, MSN, RN, is the Director of Nursing at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – Bartram Campus. Phot credit: Brooks Rehabilitation.

How did you get interested in being a physical rehabilitation nurse? What drew you to it? How long have you been doing it?

I began my career in healthcare as an Inpatient Rehabilitation Technician in a large acute care hospital. I originally wanted to go into physical therapy or sports medicine because of my years playing football, baseball, and wrestling. 

After working in the field for a few years and attending a local college for prerequisites, I decided to go into nursing instead. I worked as a solid organ transplant RN with critically ill patients for several years. Many of these patients went on for inpatient rehabilitation services at Brooks Rehabilitation, and when they would come back to visit, they would rave about the great care they received. We could see the progress they made.

When the opportunity came up to continue my leadership career at Brooks as the Director of Nursing for a new 60-bed hospital they were opening, I couldn’t pass it up. I chose them for their stellar reputation, Magnet status (we’re one of only five freestanding rehabilitation hospitals in the country to have Magnet status), and patient outcomes.

Explain what a physical rehabilitation nurse does. What types of patients do you serve? What do you provide for them?  

At Brooks specifically, we serve the top 3% complexity in the nation. These patients range from traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, trauma, orthopedic, trauma, transplant, Hem/Onc, and many other specialties. We provide high-quality, individualized care, training, and education to them and their caregivers so they can become as independent as possible to prepare them for discharge.

Did you need to get additional education for this position? 

There are many disease/injury-specific processes and care the RNs need to learn to care for the patients properly. For example, traumatic brain injury patients need calm redirection not to become heightened or agitated while working to improve their memory. Depending on the severity of the stroke, stroke patients may need extensive memory cues, approaching them from the affected side to force them to look your direction, in addition to strength and fine motor skills training on the affected side. Spinal cord injury patients may need varying transfer training or equipment fitting and training for mobility. 

The Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN) certification can help validate a higher level of knowledge in the specialty. In addition to specific pathophysiology around an injury or impairment, a CRRN has training in ethics, advocacy, the legislative policies that impact individuals with disabilities, accessibility, improving quality of life, and improving levels of independence. 

What do you like most about working as a physical rehab nurse? 

It is rewarding to know our impact on our patients and their caregivers.ers. 

We take tough—sometimes life-altering situations—find the good in them, and help patients build confidence in leading a meaningful life. As a result, some patients recover fully, like watching miracles before our own eyes. 

Rehab RNs and staff go out of their way to provide unique opportunities for patients to interact with their loved ones, friends, and pets. We help them regain their independence, and the compassion of a rehab RN is unmatched!

What are your biggest challenges as a physical rehab nurse? 

When you’re newer to the Inpatient Rehab setting, there is much to learn about injuries or illnesses. This specific care must be provided to each individual and the short stay in which we are expected to have vast improvement in their outcomes. Regulatory practices by insurance or CMS limit the time a patient can spend at this level of care, so we have to work fast and furious to push the limits for our patient’s recovery. 

Seeing a patient that could benefit from weeks of intense therapy but only has an insurance benefit providing 14 days of coverage is heart-wrenching. 

What are your greatest rewards as one? 

Watching our patients and families smile, cry, and hug us as they ring the bell upon discharge. This puts into perspective how much they appreciate us and the care we provided them while they were with us. You do not experience this type of nursing in many acute care areas, making this such a special environment.