Supporting people experiencing a burn injury to return to work or meaningful activity: Qualitative systematic review and thematic synthesis

Miss Natasha Bale1, Miss Jessica Van Bentum2, Miss Julia Nicholson2, Mrs Joanna Fadyl2

1Waikato District Health Board, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2Centre for Person Centred Research, Auckland, New Zealand


Qualitative studies contain in-depth information about facilitators and barriers to successful rehabilitation. This systematic review synthesised findings across qualitative studies to inform vocational rehabilitation practices for people who have experienced burn injury. PRISMA guidelines were used to determine inclusion criteria for the review and develop a comprehensive search strategy. Four databases were searched and results screened. Included studies investigated experiences of return to work or meaningful activity in a burn injury population. Quality of included articles was examined using the CASP framework for qualitative research. Thematic synthesis was used to analyse the qualitative results.

Six studies met inclusion criteria. Five themes were identified regarding experiences of vocational support and ability to return to work after a burn injury: addressing the complex impact of burn injury; personal connections as vital support; skilled and specialised healthcare as central to return to work; value of knowledge; considering the work environment. No included studies investigated meaningful activity other than paid work. Findings support structured vocational rehabilitation, psychological interventions, social support, intensive rehabilitation and patient, clinician, and workplace education as key in facilitating return to work after burn injury. Additionally, coordinated care is likely to improve vocational outcomes. Research is needed on supporting return to meaningful activity.


Natasha is a senior physiotherapist in the Waikato Burns Unit at Waikato Hospital, NZ. She has been a qualified physiotherapist for 7 years and started working in the burns unit early in her career. She enjoys the complexities of patients who have experienced a burn injury and is grateful to work in such a supportive team environment. Outside of work, Natasha enjoys running, hiking and exploring the region with her partner and their dog

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