Identifying the research capacity needs of rehabilitation medical officers to inform research participation strategies: a study protocol

Identifying the research capacity needs of rehabilitation medical officers to inform research participation strategies: a study protocol

Published 19th January 2021

Click here to download a copy of the call for action report


What’s the issue?

Rehabilitation is predicted to be the key health strategy in the 21st century1.  For example,

  1. 37,300 Australians with stroke were hospitalised in 2015-16 for an average of 26 days in post-acute rehabilitation2.
  2. Approximately 300-400 new cases of traumatic spinal cord injury occur annually, with high levels of long-term disability and morbidity3.
  3. Persistent pain is Australia’s third most costly health condition4, expected to affect almost 17% of the population by 20505.

The demand for rehabilitation is increasing, as is its complexity. The quality of rehabilitation is underpinned by clinician-led research to guide practice and policy. Although clinicians are interested in research, they are often disengaged due to lack of time, opportunity, knowledge and skills6-8.

This means missed opportunities to generate evidence for better practice, better services, and better outcomes for people living with disability and chronic complex conditions.  


Why is it important?

Clinicians want change. Rehabilitation doctors in Australia and New Zealand were surveyed in 2015 about their training needs, and future issues in rehabilitation medicine8. Rehabilitation research and the academic quality of rehabilitation medicine were in the top ten issues, and of critical importance according to 24% of respondents.

Optimal impact can be reached with a context-specific, needs-based approach to building research capacity and engagement.


What are we doing?

Our study will be the first to explore the research capacity needs of rehabilitation doctors in 3 health services in south-east Queensland. We will also explore their views on useful training strategies. 

1.   To identify the research skills, engagement, experience, priorities and training needs of medical officers in rehabilitation services, and their research topics of interest.

2.   To explore and synthesise participants’ views regarding training strategies to build capacity for leading research projects within the study sites.

Metro South Health (HREC/2020/QMS/59061), Gold Coast Health (HREC/2020/QGC/ 59061), West Moreton Health (HREC/2020/QWM/59061), Griffith University (2020/222)
Dec 2020 to June 2021
Practising rehabilitation doctors, including trainees
An online survey:

a)    Levels of research experience, confidence, interest, opportunity and intent

b)    Research involvement, output, priorities, experience, and training needs

c)     Demographics characteristics

Focus groups/interviews: training strategies to build local capacity for leading research.

The survey data will be analysed to describe the sample, to summarise the responses, and to identify patterns in training needs and opportunities. The focus group and interview transcripts will be analysed to gain insights into the topic of building research capacity in rehabilitation clinicians.


In summary

  • With the rising demand for rehabilitation, there is a rising need for research-informed practice, but practising rehabilitation doctors are often disengaged from leading research. This mixed-method study will address an under-researched priority.
  • Understanding participants’ research needs, experience and aspirations will enable future training initiatives that are tailored to the needs of rehabilitation doctors in their practice context.
  • Enabling rehabilitation doctors to lead research will generate practice-relevant evidence for improving the quality of rehabilitation services. This will enable better patient-related experiences and outcomes.


Questions or comments?

Contact us:


  1. Stucki G, Bickenbach J, Gutenbrunner C, et al. Rehabilitation: the health strategy of the 21st century. J Rehabil Med 2018;50:309-16.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia’s Health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. AUS 221. 3.7 Stroke. Canberra: AIHW, 2018.
  3. Tovell A. Spinal cord injury, Australia, 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 122. Cat. no. INJCAT 202. Canberra: AIHW, 2019.
  4. Access Economics. The high price of pain: The economic impact of persistent pain in Australia. Report for the MBF Foundation. Australia: Access Economics, 2007.
  5. Pezzullo L. Cost of Pain in Australia. Painaustralia. Canberra: Deloitte Access Economics 2019.
  6. Graham J, Middleton A, Roberts P, et al. Health services research in rehabilitation and disability – the time is now. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2018;99:198-203.
  7. Witham M, Roberts H, Gladman J, et al. Growing research in geriatric medicine. Age Ageing 2019;48:316-9.
  8. Parker S. Discussion paper: The Rehabilitation Medicine Trainee of the Future: Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, 2015. [accessed 19 Mar 2020]


Suggested citation:
Burridge L, Foster M, Geraghty T. REHABILITATION RESEARCH: CALL TO ACTION. Identifying the research capacity needs of rehabilitation medical officers to inform research participation strategies: a study protocol. (Brisbane, Australia): The Hopkins Centre, 2021. (access date)


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