History of Rehabilitation Nursing

The Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN) was formed by Susan Novak in 1974 with support from Lutheran General Hospital, in Park Ridge, Illinois, at a time when rehabilitation nursing became recognized as a nursing specialty. By 1976, ARN was formally recognized as a specialty nursing organization by the American Nurses Association (ANA). As the needs for these specialty nurses grew, ARN developed the Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN) certification in 1984, and has turned over administration of the certification to the Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board (RNCB), an autonomous component of ARN. The CRRN program is accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties.

Evolution of the Specialty

An interdisciplinary healthcare specialty, rehabilitation evolved as many 20th Century wartime soldiers, young men for the most part, survived injury but faced serious disability. As a result, military hospitals established rehabilitation units that focused extensive efforts on returning these young men to society. Soon, rehabilitation units and hospitals sprang up around the country and the interdisciplinary specialty of rehabilitation gained importance.


  • 1974 ARN was formed by Susan Novak
  • 1976 ARN was recognized as a specialty nursing organization by the ANA
  • 1980 The organization's specialty Journal, established in 1975, was renamed Rehabilitation Nursing (RNJ)
  • 1981 Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board was formed and the Rehabilitation Nursing: Concepts and Practice-A Core Curriculum, 1st ed. was published
  • 1984 The Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board was formed and the Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN¬ģ) exam was first administered
  • 1986 ARN's research board, Rehabilitation Nursing Institute, originally established in 1977, was restructured and renamed Rehabilitation Nursing Foundation (RNF)
  • 2007 The landmark study, "Nurse Staffing and Patient Outcomes in Inpatient Rehabilitation Settings," was completed and the results were published in RNJ; the study was funded by RNF along with the Uniform Data System for Medical Rehabilitation Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Patient Safety Center of Inquiry
  • 2013 ARN released the Essential Role of the Rehabilitation Nurse in Facilitating Care Transitions white paper
  • 2014 The Competency Model for Professional Rehabilitation Nursing was established to fully define and describe the domains and competencies of the specialty
  • 2015 ARN launched RESTARTrecovery.org, a patient-centered website to help patients and caregivers find information and resources surrounding the rehabilitation journey
  • 2017 the Continence Care Task Force released bowel and bladder management tools for the entire disciplinary team to use
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