Interview with Mel Kelly by Dr Cindy Kok
Injury to outcome – a demographic review of the specialist SCI
Kaleidoscope vocational rehabilitation service
1. What is your current role and organisation, and how long have you been there?
I have worked for the NZ Spinal Trust for 11 years and my current position is the New
Zealand Manager of Kaleidoscope, the specialist vocational rehabilitation service for
those with an acquired serious spinal impairment. Whilst I am based in Christchurch,
I divide my time between the Burwood Spinal Unit and the Auckland Spinal
Rehabilitation Unit; which I enjoy and value.
2. Congratulations on your results. Almost 70% of returning to work or training
sounds incredible. Is this number close to your target or were you hoping for more
or predicting less?
Thank you Cindy, we are very proud of the results. At inauguration of the service
when the figure was 12.3 % we set a target of 50% and we have surpassed that.
What I hadn’t predicted was that recently when we surveyed patients within the
month following acute rehab hospital discharge, that 91% believed that work was
possible. This is an incredible result and for me personally a very satisfying outcome
measure, which only further validates the importance of early vocational
A large influencer of success is expectation, and setting that early on following an
injury or illness. If the clinical teams, family, employers and society don’t expect that
work is possible, why then would the person at the centre.
3. Have you got any data on how many people return to their old profession?
Yes we do, however it is an incomplete data set that is a future project. If I had to
give an indication, it would be over half of the clients returned to their existing
4. You mentioned early intervention is important and that you approach people 1
week after their injury. What is the general reaction when you approach people so
soon after their injury and are people ready to discuss work at that stage?
The team approach people typically within the first 3 weeks, however often as you
suggest it is the first week of admission to one of two spinal units in NZ. I wouldn’t
say there is a general reaction, but rather one that is dependent on their work
context. One example might be for self-employed people; often the reaction is one
of relief as someone is there to assist to put alternate arrangements in place, or to
set them up working alongside their physical rehabilitation. Typically within the
month following admission, our experience is that nearly all people are ready to
discuss the possibility of work and move forward into discovering and shaping what
that might look like. A lot can be attributed to the approach that we use and our
model of practise.
The first few interactions essentially are to introduce the vocational support offered;
but really to connect with the person and their family and to address any initial work
concerns. Following this, spending time to understand what their world of work
looks like and supporting the possibility of work; fostering hope is an essential
element of early intervention vocational rehab. It is important to highlight, that a
key is contacting the employer to offer relevant support and education and set the
expectation that in many cases, it is possible that their employee can return to work.
5. You presented your work this year at ANZSCoS 2017 in Brisbane. Did you enjoy the
conference and what was a highlight for you?
I did enjoy the conference, it offered a depth of variety and it was very gratifying to
have vocational rehabilitation as a strong profile. The highlight for me was 18
delegates attending the vocational disciplinary meeting and to hear about the
research on vocational programmes that are being delivered in Sydney, Melbourne
and Brisbane from my Australian networks.
6. Did you receive any feedback from other conference attendees? If yes, what were
some of their comments?
In general the feedback I was privy to was very positive and encouraging. A large
number of comments were in regards to the variety offered and a building energy
and dedication to progress the conversations and research for next year in Sydney.
Whether delegates would admit it or not, I’m reasonably confident that the video
booth at the gala dinner was a hit also.
7. What is next for you and your team? Any additional research plans?
In 2018 we will be reviewing and further developing the employer support that
Kaleidoscope provides. I also have an initiative I’d like to see launched, the ‘Ability
Awareness Learning Experience’, however it is dependent on a number of external
In terms of research plans, I am looking forward to collaborating with colleagues
across the ditch and preparing for ISCoS. Internally, we are exploring the role that
hope plays in the early intervention setting, research on the patient exit survey and a
demographical review of the Kaleidoscope service.