People with MS can experience significant challenges in finding and maintaining employment. However, peers who share their experience of living and working with MS can promote self-management and empowerment, and help other people with MS move into work. Peer-mentoring can also be a mutually beneficial relationship – participants who serve as peer leaders may also gain knowledge, skills and self-confidence in the process. The evidence base for this form of employment support is, however, still at an early stage.
Dr Diana Dorstyn and her team will develop and test an online forum called MSJobSeek, led by employed peers with MS and overseen by a health psychologist. Peers share their work experiences and help motivate and encourage people with MS to explore work and study options. This group coaching and mentoring is supplemented with educational material to help participants better understand the current job market. To maximise reach and quality of access, Dr Dorstyn will deliver this targeted support and mentoring via the internet.
Dr Dorstyn will examine whether MSJobSeek is effective in supporting return-to-work progression for people with relapsing remitting or progressive MS. The findings will have important implications. It will generate new evidence on how job-seekers with MS engage with, and respond to, peer mentoring. It will also provide a framework for how peer support services might be run and optimised in the care of people with MS seeking employment.
Dr Dorstyn recruited 29 participants with relapsing remitting MS or progressive MS wanting to enter or return to the workforce for this study. The participants were randomly assigned to either the intervention group, who had access to the MS JobSeek forum, or the control group, who received written information and resources about the job search process. Six peer mentors with MS, representing various occupational categories (e.g. part-time, full-time or self-employed) were recruited and trained to moderate the forum. The mentors shared their experiences of returning to work following their diagnosis and provided support and encouragement to participants.
The initial data from this work suggests that although job search behaviour and confidence in the job search process did not significantly change during the 2-month intervention, participants did experience benefits with the forum. The importance of having their stories heard by others and not feeling isolated was a key theme. Those who reported low engagement with the forum linked this directly to other stressors happening at the same time (e.g. health issues, COVID-19).
Dr Dorstyn and her team hope to demonstrate that a peer-led online forum is both feasible and health-promoting for job seekers with MS. The long-term aim is to develop a framework for future peer support interventions, including guidelines on the requirements for the preparation, support and supervision of vocational peer mentors.
Dr Dorstyn is preparing a manuscript of her research findings for publication in a scientific journal and has plans to apply for further funding to perform this study with a larger group of participants.
Updated 6 July 2021
Updated: 02 January, 2019
Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.
Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.
Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.