Reflections of Rehab Professional: What makes an outstanding Vocational Rehabilitation Practitioner?

As a longstanding Trustee of the VRA I have been privileged to assess the nominations for VRA awards for a number of years. It is really encouraging to read what VRA members are up to in their professional lives.

Many members may be deserving of an award, but few achieve them and so it might be of interest for members to know what I, as an individual judge, am looking for in an exemplary VR Professional (VRP). Just in case you feel that my ideas are way out of order, you may rest assured that all nominations are assessed by a number of trustees who use an agreed set of criteria for all nominations and are blind to the scores given by other judges.

Firstly I am looking for the way in which nominees can demonstrate that they assess the outcome of their interventions. The methods of assessment are more important to me than the actual results, as it shows me how the VRP is trying to learn from their practice – which to me is a prerequisite to good practice. Of course, knowing that one’s clients think highly of one’s interventions is always pleasant, but should be a matter of course to my way of thinking, and can be very subjective.

One cannot objectively audit all of one’s practice in detail, but demonstrating evidence-based knowledge in one area is always a good start. What I would love to read in nominations would be something like:-

Common mental health conditions constitute about two-thirds of my practice. The commonest evidence-based interventions used were job modifications (accommodations) in 90%, worksite visits in 75% and phased return to work (RTW) in 60%. Surprisingly, specifically involving the Equality Act was only needed in 10% of clients, suggesting that employers are now getting used to making the necessary job adjustments. Only 10% of the employers had occupational health services suggesting that most of my clients were working in small enterprises.

Wherever possible, these findings from your own practice should be rationalised in comparison with the evidence base, using references to demonstrate more robust reasoning.

A number of nominations included really interesting case studies. They can be a good form of demonstrating reflective practice and some of them could be developed into publishable reports – an area that is neglected in our current practice and an area that the VRA should take forward – perhaps working in collaboration with the Society of Occupational Medicine and its journal?

Whilst a significant focus should be on demonstrating good reflective practice, how else can VRPs show that they are outstanding practitioners? One way is to show involvement in education – either of colleagues, other health professionals or business colleagues. If one has skills, it is incumbent upon us as skilled rehabilitation professionals to pass on that knowledge – thus increasing the total number of individuals helped in their working lives.

Other VRPs will show how they are using their skills to develop VR practice generally, perhaps by taking on management or other roles in their organisation and implementing VR related quality assurance initiatives, such as VR practice audit; development of the use of robust outcome measures; or contributing to projects and networks that will educate potential commissioners of VR and other agencies about the work of VRPs. For example, rehabilitation professionals may well develop close working relationships with the charitable sector. Not only can charities assist the VRP in the management of individual clients, but the VRP can assist the charity in developing its knowledge about the health/work interface and the benefits of supporting disadvantaged individuals in their working lives – perhaps for the first time!

The VRA continues to work to promote professional standards and evidence-based practice and aims to support and recognise the work of all its members. So I would like to congratulate all or our award winners for 2019 and hope that all our members start looking forward to the awards for 2020. Please continue to nominate yourself and your colleagues who you feel are worthy of nomination as you encourage them to develop their careers and promote high-quality VR practice

I am grateful to Christine Parker for helpful comments on my original draft.

Andrew Frank

Trustee and Past Chair