One nurse’s journey from rehab tech to CNO

Nursing Professional Development
Last updated: 
Rafael Alarez Luis
Rafael Alarez Luis

Learn why Rafael Alvarez Luis chose a career in rehabilitation nursing, rising from rehab tech to CNO while inspiring other nurses to pursue higher nursing education.

Rafael Alvarez Luis knows a thing or two about turning a dream career into a reality. Over the past 10 years, he’s held nearly every nursing position available at Encompass Health, and there’s a reason why.

“Seeing your patients’ progress is the best reward. It’s why we do it,” he said. 

When Alvarez Luis immigrated to the United States from Cuba, he immediately set out to work in the nursing field. In 2009, he landed his first state-side job at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Miami, embarking on a decade-long journey through the ranks of the rehab nursing field.

He was hired as a rehab tech but later earned his nursing assistant certification and became directly involved in the care of patients. As his passion for rehabilitation grew, he decided to take the next step and pursue a Bachelor’s degree. His hard work was rewarded when he was promoted to nursing supervisor shortly after graduation. 

Alvarez Luis says he never considered another nursing specialty. He credits one particular patient experience, a very young man admitted after surviving a traumatic brain injury, with reaffirming his choice to pursue a career in rehabilitation nursing.

“The family had no hope,” he said. “The patient’s mother asked me every day if her son would ever walk or talk again. She was so desperate for some good news. I would tell her that I can’t tell the future but I do trust the rehabilitation process. Every day, I had the opportunity to help her son get better.”

After two months, the patient was able to speak and walk out of the hospital on his own. Years later, Alvarez Luis was paged to the hospital lobby to greet unexpected visitors. To his surprise, it was the young man and his family. It was a visit he’ll never forget. 

“In the rehabilitation field, we have the opportunity to help the patients on a personal level and see their progress every day,” Alvarez Luis said. “In some specialties, you only see pieces of a patient’s life. You see their broken arm or their common cold. In rehabilitation nursing, you get the big picture, including the family members and the impact of how their life will change. You get to see it across all disciplines.”

His love of rehabilitation strengthened as he continued to rise through the nursing profession. By 2016, Alvarez Luis had become a nursing manager. He made use of Encompass Health’s tuition assistance program, a resource provided to employees pursuing higher education, to reach the final step in his nursing career ladder. One year later, he graduated with his Masters of Science in Nursing, an accomplishment he describes as “a dream come true.” 

After a decade with Encompass Health, Alvarez Luis was appointed chief nursing officer at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Miami in 2018, where he remains today, caring for patients and encouraging new graduates to make their rehabilitation nursing dreams a reality too. 

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.