While every facet of nursing involves building relationships with patients and providing valuable care to those in need, rehab nursing offers a challenge and opportunity unlike any other. Rehab nurses are called upon to support patients in regaining strength and independence after a major injury or illness, often over a period of days, weeks, or months.

With these longer-term relationships, rehab nursing can be remarkably personal and incredibly rewarding — so let’s hear from a UPMC rehab nurse on what that experience is really like.

What makes a job rewarding? Is it the people you impact, the relationships you form with your coworkers, or the commitment you demonstrate to your profession?

For Julianne F., it’s a little bit of everything, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rewarded with Relationships

Julianne has spent the past nine years as a professional staff nurse in the Stroke Rehab Unit at UPMC Mercy, and there is nowhere else she’d rather be. Julianne called her work in the Stroke Rehab Unit “the best nursing I’ve ever done.” While nurses in other units see new patients every night, or even every few hours, a patient often spends three to four weeks in Stroke Rehab. This time allows Julianne and her coworkers to develop meaningful relationships with patients — relationships that last.

Julianne said, “It’s very rewarding. We establish relationships and rapports, not only with the patients but with their families. When they come back for their follow-up appointments and come on the unit, you just cry and hug them.” For Julianne, the biggest reward is knowing that she has made an immense difference in the lives of her patients.

A Surprising Career Shift

Julianne graduated from college as an aspiring architect with a degree in interior design – worlds away from the Rehab Unit where she finds herself today. When Julianne struggled to find a job in her field, she began to consider nursing for the first time. With encouragement from her mom, who worked in pharmacy, Julianne spent a few days shadowing on a medical-surgical unit and instantly fell in love.

Julianne said, “I kept thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t do anything this fulfilling when I’m doing interior design. These people are really helping people.’” Motivated by this experience, she took a leap of faith and applied to nursing school, effectively changing her career path. After nursing school, Julianne began her career at the former UPMC South Side Hospital. While she didn’t find her way to the Rehab Unit for a few more years, Julianne knew that she had found her place.

Julianne’s Impact

Patients arrive in Julianne’s unit during one of the most terrifying experiences of their lives. Often, they are aphasic, or unable to communicate verbally, and in an incredibly vulnerable state. Yet thanks to the care of the unit’s diligent nurses, most patients slowly recover their cognitive and physical abilities. Julianne said that the progress most patients make between entering and exiting the Stroke Rehab Unit makes her work deeply rewarding.

Julianne recognizes the responsibility that she and her team carry. “I’m in multiple roles,” she said. “I’m an educator, communicator, and advocate, not just for the patient but for the families as well.” With the longer-term stays that most patients experience, “you become close with them, you advocate for them, you communicate with them, and you’re the voice for them.”

Julianne’s work in the Stroke Rehab Unit is demanding, and it requires the combined effort of medical professionals across many different disciplines. But at the end of the day, Julianne knows that it’s all worthwhile because it’s all for the people she serves. “We all work as a team for the patients, so that when they go home they can maintain that quality of life.”