Meet our Researchers - Finding the Answers that help ISCRR make a difference

Gillean Hilton
Gillean Hilton

Gillean is currently completing her PhD with the Department of Occupational Therapy at Central Queensland University.

Her area of study is employment following spinal cord injury. As an occupational therapist, she has worked with the Victorian Spinal Cord Service (VSCS) at Austin Health for almost 15 years, holding numerous different roles as a clinician and project manager. Having seen on many occasions the importance participation in meaningful and purposeful activity has had in helping people adjust to new circumstances, it was in her role as the senior occupational therapist with the spinal unit that she first started to understand the complexity of the return to work process for people after injury.

Gillean Hilton is one of over 60 researchers who make up the ISCRR research network. Many who form part of ISCRR's network of researchers, like Gillean, help ISCRR find the answers which help make a difference in giving people living with a spinal cord injury.

Where do you work?

 First and foremost I am mother to my two little boys, the eldest is just over 2 and the youngest almost 6 months old. I have a substantive role as the senior occupational therapist with the VSCS although I am currently on maternity leave. Since I have had children I have taken on several different roles including teaching at La Trobe University and project coordination at the Austin conducting and evaluating a patient flow initiative.

Where were you prior to starting at Queensland University?

As an Occupational Therapist I have worked in many different roles both here in Australia and the Republic of Ireland. When I first commenced with the VSCS I did so in a unique role as the Community Linking and Leisure Specialist for the spinal rehab unit. It was in this position that I first became interested in research, as topics such as the role leisure plays in the adjustment process, and effective models of peer support, were all (and still are) relatively under-represented in the literature.

How long have you been a researcher with ISCRR?

I was very fortunate to be a recipient of an ISCRR Small Development Grant in early 2013 to undertake a qualitative project exploring the experience of achieving employment following SCI.

What area of research are you working in and what attracted you to this type of research?

My PhD topic is Employment outcomes for people following traumatic spinal cord injury. I have long been interested in how best to support individuals with spinal cord injury to experience successful and sustained engagement in meaningful life roles such as in work and leisure. I am particularly interested in what interventions may be most effective in enhancing employment outcomes in this group.  

What do you like best about your role?

I tend to thrive on being busy and challenged, but also (for the most part) being in control of what I do day-to-day. I took on my PhD when my eldest son was only 8 months old and, whilst life has continued to be hectic, it means that I still have the flexibility to be a mother whilst furthering my professional development.

What was the most fulfilling piece of research you completed?

 It was very satisfying to complete the Small Development Grant Project. My methodology included recruiting and interviewing over 30 people who had different experiences of seeking, gaining and maintaining employment since they had sustained their spinal cord injury. It was a true privilege to hear and subsequently absorb myself in these people's stories. I gained much insight into the issues and challenges people face… and what they draw on to overcome adversity.

How is your research benefiting/providing impact WorkSafe /VWA and the TAC?

I believe that the more we try to understand and appreciate people's experience of seeking, gaining and maintaining work after significant injury, the more likely it is that policy and practice will evolve to minimise barriers to employment. I hope my research is helping to do that.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given, and what would you give?

'Where you are now, is exactly the right place to be, no matter how hard it seems'. Whilst the context of this advice was quite obscure (I was competing in an adventure race four days after my father had unexpectedly passed away), there are similarities with taking on any large commitment, particularly when balancing it with other life demands. So my advice onward? Life is precious, love it and give it your all!  

Describe yourself in three words.

Dedicated, motivated and an optimist.