Research Updates

Dr Mary Wyatt



Self effacing, warm, always positive Mary Wyatt is a consummate professional dedicated to return to work.

She graduated from Monash University Medicine with Honours winning the Carnation Award for Paediatrics in 1979.

For the following six years she enjoyed postings in a variety of exotic locations.  Beginning with Darwin then Abu Dhabi, UAE and KwaZulu.  Mary still has a preference for hot weather, very hot weather.

Returning to Australia to General Practice in 1986 Mary undertook further study gaining a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health in 1995 and a Masters in Public Health in 1998, followed by a Graduate Certificate in Musculoskeletal Medicine in 2002. She became an Occupational Physician in 1997.

In the area of return to work Mary has worn many hats:  treater physician, assessing physician, reviewing workplaces for return to work, conciliator in dispute resolution, and as a manager involved with the development of effective return to work systems.

She teaches at Monash and was a member of the Victorian WorkCover Advisory Committee from 1993 to 1998, serving on a number of sub committees primarily concerned with the development of back pain guidelines for Victoria and the world leading public back campaign. 

In 2001 Mary won the Volvo Award for Best Clinical Research Paper in back pain.  Recognised nationally and internationally for her work, Mary's friendship is prized for her wonderfully warm and supportive personality. 

Her dedication to making a difference in peoples' lives led to Mary and others to establish OccCorp in 2001. There she managed a team of 25 case managers to coordinate return to work across a range of industries and company sizes. 

Returning to private practice in 2005 Mary founded and remains Chair of The Foundation for Research into Injury and Illness in the Workplace (ResWorks) a non profit organisation, which developed the Return To Work Knowledge Base,  and led to the development of Return To Work Matters as an online network and resource for Return To Work Professionals which she edits. 

Mary chairs the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Policy Committee and is a member of the College of Physicians Policy and Advocacy Committee. 

All this while bringing up a family and dealing with a husband who would rather be fishing. Mary's is the mind that directs the support services, resources and research material on the Matters site, while ensuring that the highest ethical standards are maintained.


Articles by ‘Dr Mary Wyatt’
What is work-focused healthcare?

Physiotherapists, rehabilitation professionals and other health practitioners treating people with work-related health problems (i.e. health problems that impact workability or are caused by work)...

Comcare has success with innovative early intervention program

Phone triage is an effective gateway to early intervention, securing cost and recovery benefits via a broad-spectrum approach, with support services accessible to workers regardless of work causation.

Mapping Australian systems of income support

A ground-breaking report on Australian income support systems shows why everyone from life insurance companies to the average Aussie taxpayer stands to benefit from a more enlightened approach to...

Why wellbeing metrics matter

Tracking wellbeing is not only possible, it helps with RTW and financial performance. Here is a resource to get you started.

Who is afraid of RTW?

Workers have (sometimes valid) fears of re-injury upon return to work. How can employers and health providers create an environment in which it feels safe to return?

Bully me, bully my team

People in a team where bullying occurs are more likely to have long periods of time off work, even if they are not the victims.

Asking questions improves RTW motivation

Motivational interviewing promotes better RTW results, especially for people who lose or leave their job after workplace injury.

How do social functioning, social relationships and compensation influence RTW?

Understanding the factors that influence return to work assists in effective rehabilitation.

Relationships impact RTW and RTW effort sufficiency

Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a positive employer / employee relationship has more impact than functional capacity on RTW and RTW effort sufficiency, a measure of employer and employee...

Intervention practices for depression in the workplace

Researchers from Canada sought to summarise the research on interventions for depression in the workplace.

Depression and work performance

An ecological study using web based screening

Measuring employer and employee efforts toward RTW

Researchers suggest shifting from a straightforward evaluation of capacity and duties to more personal factors such as the relationship between the employee and the employer.

Predicting the transition from acute to persistent low back pain

A small but significant proportion of people with back pain go on to develop long-term problems.

What does a thriving social life have to do with RTW?

Researchers looking for factors associated with early RTW uncover the usual suspects, as well as a less-expected ally: the social butterfly!

Regional trends in sickness benefit payments

Rsearchers investigated why claims for mental and behavioural disorders have overtaken those for musculoskeletal complaints

Self reported work-related symptoms in hairdressers

Musculoskeletal problems for hairdressers may be reduced if the risks are understood.

Work-related symptoms in nail salon technicians

Managers may be unfamiliar with evidence-based prevention and ergonomic practices

The burden of sickness absence from musculoskeletal causes

The costs of a major health problem in developed nations

The occupational hazard of self treatment and self medication for doctors

A review of self medication in physicians and medical students

Work ability, psychosocial hazards and work experience in prisons

Spanish researchers sought to understand work ability amongst prison workers.

Physical activity at work and low back pain

Back problems are commonly attributed to work and many in the community believe that heavy lifting contributes to back problems.

RSI in musicians

Professional musicians have high rates of musculoskeletal pain, but few studies have analysed the risks of work activities or the psychosocial work environment.

Does hurting here - and here - and here - make it harder to work?

Multi-site pain is a common phenomenon among working-age people and it strongly increases work disability risk.

Easy, accurate way to measure stress

French researchers find a simple way to measure stress - using a visual scale.

Severity of bipolar disorder does not determine disability level

This study sought to understand whether patients with bipolar disorder admitted to hospital had a greater level of disability than those who had not been.

Job demands, musculoskeletal symptoms and computer work

When musculoskeletal problems flare for a desk-bound office worker, they may need a stress check as much as they need an ergonomics check.

An elegant way to assess recovery

A single question - "How do you feel you are recovering from your injury?” - may be as useful in assessing progress as numerous more complex questionnaires.

Can botox injections replace surgery for refractory knee pain?

Exercise and surgery have long been the staple treatments for refractory knee pain - but is there a quicker (and less risky) fix?

Entrenched work disability shifted by self-knowledge

Might a therapeutic approach that focuses on increasing self-knowledge help shift long-term work disability and encourage recovery?

What's missing from undergraduate occupational medicine tuition?

We need better approaches to teaching medical students about work, health and occupational medicine.

Slow access to vocational rehab with cancer?

Workers with cancer may have delayed referral to occupational health services

Leadership effectiveness and recorded sickness absence

Nurse managers who match their leadership style to the issue at hand see fewer short time absences than those who lack this skill.

Confidence vital for supervisors managing RTW...

...And other influences on supervisor readiness to engage in workplace-based vocational rehabilitations

Workplace support counts for employees with cancer

Employer attitudes influence RTW after a cancer diagnosis.

Research short: Occupational therapy for psychosis

A study has shown promising signs of success for helping people with mental health issues join the workforce.

Research short: Getting disability off your back

New research shows patient anxiety and distress about a lower back complaint significantly reduces the chance of a successful return to work outcome.

Research short: Spinal manipulative therapy for chronic low back pain

Researchers have found spinal manipulative therapy yields small improvements in chronic low back pain, but have questioned the practice's cost-effectiveness.

Research short: Returning to work after road accidents

A new study highlights the mains causes for return to work delays after an injury on the road.

Research short: Do physician guidelines improve return to work rates?

A Dutch study has shown that adherence to guidelines by physicians can help lead to earlier return to work outcomes.

Research short: Exercise and the treatment of chronic pain

Researchers have developed an effective treatment for the vexing condition of Fibromyalgia through a detailed and prolonged exercise regimen.

Research short: Improving RTW outcomes with pain coping skills

Injured workers may have a better RTW outcome if they undergo pain coping skills training before surgery.

Research short: Abnormal tactile sensations in chronic pain

Canadian researchers have highlighted the lack of knowledge about the causes of abnormal and reduced sensations in the limbs of patients.

The impact of values

Can employees' values improve their happiness, absence rates and health?

Guided internet-based cognitive behavioural treatment for chronic back pain reduces pain catastrophising

A randomized controlled trial from Sweden offers hope for chronic back pain sufferers.

Research short: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Disability is more likely if a patient worries about their illness.

Research short: Managing arm pain in computer users

Ergonomic keyboards can help reduce the effects of recurrent arm pain in office workers.

Research short: What med certs tell us about sickness absence

A Swedish study has shown that what doctors and employers will permit on medical certificates has changed over recent decades.

Research short: Flexible hours improves wellbeing

A University of Wollongong survey shows employees with access to flexible working hours are in better shape than those working to a rigid roster.

Research short: Bad for the body, bad for the workplace

A major study from the Netherlands shows productivity can be improved by helping workers improve their lifestyles.

Research short: How long will chronic low back pain last?

A Dutch study has produced a simple, efficient means for assessing the probable duration of low back pain.

Research short: Professional supervision for rehab providers

A survey of rehabilitation and return to work managers in Queensland has led to calls for greater professional development through mentoring and supervision.

Research short: What is the best way to evaluate permanent impairment?

A study has raised doubts about whether the new edition of the American Medical Association guides for the evaluation of impairment are an improvement on existing practice.

Research short: Can yoga ease workplace stress?

A UK study has concluded that regular yoga can improve workplace wellbeing and reduce employee stress.

Research short: Sick of work

A Swedish study has highlighted the link between lacklustre organisational environments workplace and employee absenteeism.

Research short: My boss makes me sick

Poor management often leads to higher levels of employee stress and sickness.

Research short: Attending work while sick

Flexible sick-leave policies can reduce sickness absence.

Research Short: Do managers suffer from more stress?

A Danish study debunks the myth that managers are often more stressed than employees.

Research short: A happy work is a healthy work

Positive workplace environments are necessary for workplace health programs to be successful.

The less involved senior managers are, the better they rate health and safety

Hands-off senior managers overestimate the safety and health of their workplace compared to industry standards. RTW professionals should use facts to remove rose-coloured glasses...

Want less sick leave?

The evidence says you should improve workplace culture, clearly define roles and put better support mechanisms in place for workers who perform emotionally demanding labour.

Research short: Work is good for you, but...

The UK's treating practitioners say that work is beneficial, but how do they actually behave when making recommendations about back problems?

Research short: Is integrated care value for $?

A European study of an integrated care program for workers with long term back problems shows a return of $26 for every $1 invested.

Research short: Doctors or managers - who affects sickness absence?

Danish researchers find that management approaches and levels of employee decision-making latitude exert considerable influence on sick leave. So who should you try and influence?

Research short: Armed against arm pain

Reducing repetitive work is not the only option to consider when attempting to accommodate arm pain in the workplace.

Research short: Cancer and work

Who is more pessimistic about the impact of cancer on working life: cancer survivors or employers? How does this affect return to work prospects?

Research short: The pre-employment examination drain

Do pre-employment medical examinations reduce sick leave? Are they value for money?

Research short: Mixed opinions

When dealing with complex or ambiguous medical problems, only half of treating practitioners come to the same conclusions about RTW.

Research short: Understanding who wants what

Different RTW players have different objectives. Research suggests that this knowledge can help you reduce paperwork. Whaaat? Read on!

Research short: health risks and disability

Individuals with disabilities are more likely to engage in risky health behaviours like smoking and drinking alcohol.

Research short: First contact

Early contact with injured workers is good for RTW, right? Well, that depends! It's not so much what you do as how you do it.

Research short: link found between pain symptoms and confidence

Believing that you can cope with whatever life brings you has a positive impact on pain symptoms - and there are ways of assessing coping confidence at work.

Research short: flexible work reduces sick leave

Workers who have the option to work from home are 1.5 times less likely to take sick leave than those who must be in the office.

How do workers with neck pain fare, and what influences their progress?

Neck pain commonly follows a persistent or recurrent course. Between 60% to 80% of workers who advise a sore neck at some point report they have a sore neck a year later. Workers who exercise do...

Using the ICF as a conceptual framework to guide ergonomic intervention in occupational rehabilitation

A broad and comprehensive approach to exploring return to work issues is provided by the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF).

Overtreatment HURTS

The US demonstrates how overtreating back pain causes more pain.

The 'work ability' divide

Who falls in the anti-collaboration chasm when doctors and insurers have different ideas about what 'work ability' involves?

Teamwork: what works?

Teamwork is an art and a science. Learn to nurture it with style!

Success with systems at work for shoulders

Shoulder problems are common. Having a standard management system in place can streamline return to work.

What's the source of that pain in the neck?

Neck pain is a common condition in workers, and psychosocial factors influence outcomes.

Back problems: beliefs and recovery - the evidence

A person's beliefs about back problems influence how they engage with treatment, so providing the right information is vital.

Blame is not a game

Researchers have developed a questionnaire to help identify when perceptions of injustice may be jeopardising RTW.

Mental illness and RTW: bridging the gap

Collaboration between mental health and employment agencies assists return to work, but how do we foster collaboration?

Is everyone a safety expert?

Canadian researchers conclude that employees have the goods to make participatory ergonomics a success.

Canada trains researchers to share the love!

Disability prevention researchers benefit from collaboration and communication in an innovative Canadian program

Understanding the trajectory of workplace stress

Research suggests that stress claims aren't as big a mystery as employers tend to think...

Can CBT trump chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a notoriously obstinate barrier to RTW. Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy the card we need to play?

A pain in the neck?

A Canadian study explores the relationship between neck pain and lost time claims.

Compensating for legislation

Case Study NSW: How do changes to a compensation system effect whiplash recovery outcomes?

Which work factors determine job satisfaction?

Job satisfaction improves mental health. Task variety, colleagues, and general working conditions improve overall job satisfaction.

Shifting attitudes to back pain - the Scots follow the Aussies

A public health campaign in Scotland has improved people's understanding and beliefs about back problems.

Left behind in the RTW journey - Part 1

A look at barriers to return to work for those out of work for two years. Return to work after being off work for long periods is challenging and uncommon, understanding the barriers is vital.

Left behind in the RTW journey - Part 2

Long term claimants commonly describe a system that is frustrating, does not consider their needs, and misses out on treating them as an individual.

If RTW with chronic back pain fails, try a new approach

Chronic pain is challenging to manage. Dr Wyatt describes a hotel worker's persistent, disabling case of back pain - and the treatment changes that made all the difference.

Locus of control and vocational rehabilitation

A sense of control over the situation improves return to work outcomes.

The empowerment of people with neck pain

Improved understanding about neck problems helps the patient get a better grasp on their condition, what can be done to improve the situation and what is likely to occur. It also helps treaters,...

The world's best look at neck pain

The Task Force on Neck Pain was a major undertaking, seeking to review and summarise information on neck pain problems, treatments, and what can be done to improve neck pain outcomes. A decade on,...