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Years to employment after spinal cord injury.

OBJECTIVE: To identify factors related to the length of time between spinal cord injury (SCI) onset and return to work among 259 participants with SCI, all of whom have worked at some point since SCI onset.

DESIGN: All data were cross-sectional and collected by survey methodology.

SETTING: A midwestern university hospital and private hospital in the same metropolitan area.

PARTICIPANTS: Participants were identified from outpatient records of 2 participating hospitals. They met 4 exclusion and inclusion criteria: (1) traumatic SCI; (2) 18 years of age or older; (3) a minimum of 2 years postinjury; and (4) had been employed at some time since SCI. The 259 participants' average age was 46.4 years at the time of the study, with an average of 23.5 years having passed since SCI onset.

INTERVENTIONS: Not applicable.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Years from injury onset to beginning first postinjury job, years to the first full-time postinjury job, and the Life Situation Questionnaire.

RESULTS: Participants averaged 4.8 years from the time of SCI onset to their first postinjury job and 6.3 years until their first full-time postinjury job. However, these figures varied greatly depending on whether the individual returned to the preinjury job, was working as a professional at the time of injury, had a noncervical injury, and the amount of education by the time of injury.

CONCLUSION: There are 2 general tracks to employment after SCI-a fast track where people return to their preinjury job or preinjury profession and a slower track that is generally associated with needs for further reeducation and training. Working to return the individual to the preinjury job or to a position related to their preinjury occupation may substantially shorten the interval to return to work. In cases where this is not possible, counselors must work with individuals to understand the timeline of return to work and identify realistic educational goals that fit both the individual's interest pattern and postinjury abilities.

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