Vocational rehabilitation

Over the past few years there has been increased interest in vocational rehabilitation: helping people overcome physical or mental impairments to access, stay in, or return to suitable employment. 

Within the Rehabilitation Research Group we are exploring how people signed off work are managed, and how rehabilitation can help them return to work in the same role or in a new or modified capacity. In particular, we are looking at the increasing number of people having hip and knee replacements and how we can help them, GPs, their employers, and other healthcare practitioners to create a more effective return-to-work process. 

Our research not only has a positive impact on patients’ lives in terms of their health and wellbeing, but also on employers and the economy, as well as informing best practice for healthcare professionals. 

Recent and ongoing research includes a major project looking at ways to improve GP fit notes, supporting workers with musculoskeletal conditions, and how we can facilitate early return to work through specialist interventions. 

Research that makes an impact

Occupational advice prior to planned surgery for lower limb joint replacement (OPAL) (led by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).

OPAL is an NIHR HTA funded multicentre study, based at three NHS hospitals in England – Middlesbrough, Norwich and Nottingham – and led by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. 

There are an increasing number of patients of working age undergoing hip and knee replacement. However, there is variation in the advice and support given about sickness absence, recovery to usual activities and return to work after these procedures. Earlier, sustainable return to work improves the health of patients and benefits their employers and society. An intervention that encourages and supports early recovery to usual activities, including work, has the potential to reduce the health and socioeconomic burden of hip and knee replacement.

The purpose of this study is to develop a manualised occupational advice intervention, initiated prior to surgery, for patients who undergo elective hip and knee replacement. The research programme will be delivered in two phases over 27 months using a six stage intervention mapping approach to develop and test the intervention.

Occupational Therapy in Vocational clinics (OTVoc)

The Rehabilitation Research Group has been commissioned by the Royal College of Therapists (RCOT) to undertake a study based within occupational-therapy led vocational clinics based in GP surgeries. We will be collecting quantitative data from a sample of 50 patients attending the clinics, and qualitative data from patients, practice staff, and employers.

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Discover more research

Find out about some of our other research projects


Meet our researchers

Dr Carol Coole 

Carol is a senior research fellow whose interests include occupational therapy, lower back pain, vocational rehabilitation, and musculoskeletal conditions. 

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PhD opportunities

Discover the latest opportunities for PhD research in the field of rehabilitation.



Rehabilitation Research Group

The University of Nottingham
School of Health Sciences
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham, NG7 2HA

telephone: +44 (0)115 823 0843