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Returning to work following critical illness: milestone or millstone?
  1. Bronwen Connolly1,2,3,4
  1. 1 Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  2. 2 Department of Physiotherapy, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Lane Fox Respiratory Unit, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  4. 4 Centre for Human & Applied Physiological Sciences, King's College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bronwen Connolly, Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, BT9 7BL, UK; b.connolly{at}

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The journey of survivorship for patients following critical illness is often lengthy, complex and characterised by an individualised spectrum of multidomain impairment. Returning to work may be viewed as an important landmark for patients in their recovery journey, a metric of success that distinguishes those patients recovering sufficiently ‘well’ from those in whom continued restorative rehabilitation is required. For many of us, our jobs, our professional roles or trades, are closely linked to our sense of self-identity and responsibility within our families and society. Work can provide a feeling of purpose, motivation, and value, as well as being a financial necessity, and for patients successfully returning to work following critical illness, a sense of being ‘back to normal’ may resonate. Conceptually, return to work (RTW) is a marker of societal participation, involvement in a ‘life situation’.1 However, for many patients, the persistent legacy of physical, cognitive, psychological, and other sequelae associated with their critical illness experience represents such a burden of disability,1 that returning to work feels like, and often is, a distant and unachievable task. Less a milestone indicating onward progression along the survivorship road, and more like the proverbial millstone, weighing heavily as another indicator that the life before critical illness is far removed from the life that exists after.

Certainly, data from recent years bear witness to this scenario. Prevalence of RTW in previously employed survivors …

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  • Contributors BC is the sole author of this manuscript and conceived, drafted and finalised the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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