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Developing a return to work pathway for people with spinal cord injury

A 2020/2021 Summer Studentship research project

Student: Catey Boyce
Supervisors: Dr Jennifer Dunn, Dr Jo Nunnerley
Sponsor: Burwood Academy of Independent Living


Work is important as it provides financial independence, conveys social standing, purpose, self-esteem, and is a central component of identity. Furthermore, RTW encourages full societal participation and independence, a feeling of ‘normality’ and productivity, and contributes to New Zealand’s economy. Return to work (RTW) for people with a new health condition or disability is linked to increased wellbeing, quality of life and better physical and mental health outcomes. Improving RTW rates for people with acquired disability is both important and complex. The best model of vocational rehabilitation following injury has not been determined, although there is evidence supporting early intervention for people with a new health condition or disability. The HRC funded Early vocational rehabilitation following neurological disability (EVocS) Study uses realist research methods to clarify the underlying causal processes of early intervention vocational rehabilitation interventions thereby gaining a deeper understanding of how interventions work, for whom and in which contexts. The EVocS study aims to firstly describe and understand how an early intervention program works and how the context in which it is provided, impacts on RTW outcomes among people with traumatic and non-traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), and to develop an implementation plan for this programme to enable trial and evaluation in the stroke population. As part of this study, interviews of people with SCI (n=30) who have and have not returned to work have been performed assist in development of the theoretical framework describing how early vocational rehabilitation works, for whom and in what context. In addition, an outcomes survey of people with SCI in NZ who have received early vocational rehabilitation has been performed. Aim: The aim of this study is to describe the return to work pathway for people with SCI in NZ.


The results of this study will contribute to a framework for early vocational intervention in SCI and assist in development of the implementation plan to be trialed in the stroke population.


Secondary analysis of transcripts of interviews with people with SCI and survey results. Synthesis of data to develop a return to work pathway for people with SCI in NZ.

Student researcher’s component of the study

The student will be responsible for the secondary analysis of the interviews and the survey data to develop a return to work pathway. The student will assist in the preparation of a manuscript for publication of the results of the study.