Conceptualizing early intervention vocational services within inpatient spinal rehabilitation.


Research framework

Maximising Participation


Return to work following acquired neurological disability such as stroke or spinal cord impairment (SCI), is linked to increased well-being, quality of life and better health outcomes. There is evidence supporting early vocational intervention for people with a new health condition or disability. A larger study being conducted by BAT to explore Early Vocational Services EVocS exploring how to best support people to return to work after a new injury or health condition, has gathered information from people providing the vocational support, and from people who have received support. However it is not clear how vocational support is conceptualized within the inpatient rehabilitation team.

This study aims to:

1) Provide an understanding of how early intervention vocational rehabilitation is conceptualized and incorporated into inpatient rehabilitation processes. 2) To input into the larger EVocS study developing an implementation plan for an early intervention vocational rehabilitation service to be trialed in services providing inpatient rehabilitation to people after stroke.

Key Outcome: An implementation plan is developed for an early intervention vocational rehabilitation service for people with stroke in New Zealand.

This study is funded by the Health Research Council.


This study will take place over one year (2021) and will:

– Gain a better understanding of how early intervention vocational services work for people with SCI by:

  • Observing components of early vocational rehabilitation for people who have had a SCI and are receiving rehabilitation at the Burwood Spinal Unit over a 3-4 month period
  • Interviewing people receiving or contributing to early vocational rehabilitation for these four selected people

Status of Research

  • Data collection completed March-June 2021
  • Data analysis completed July-Sept 2021
  • Final report completed
  • Paper in submission


Journal Article:

Timothy, E., Bourke, J., Dunn, J., Martin, R., & Nunnerley, J. (2023). United and flexible: a collaborative approach to early vocational rehabilitation on a spinal unit. A realist study. Spinal Cord Series and Cases9(1), 33.

CLICK HERE to view: Video of Emily Timothy overviewing research findings at BAT Peer Group meeting: 

Observational Study Report
Observational study report 2021 PDF

Key Contact

Emily Timothy,
Burwood Academy 

Phone:  +64 3 383 6871

Researchers and Collaborators

Dr Jennifer Dunn (Principal Investigator)
University of Otago Christchurch

Dr Jo Nunnerley,
University of Otago Christchurch

Dr Rachelle Martin,
Burwood Academy

Dr John Bourke
Burwood Academy 

Dr Jonathan Hackney
Burwood Academy

Assoc. Prof. Debbie Snell
University of Otago Christchurch

Prof. Sarah Derrett
University of Otago Dunedin

Timothy Young
Burwood Academy 

Andrew Hall
New Zealand Spinal Trust