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As the Medical Officer for Western and Central Health in Newfoundland—and mother of an 11 year old son—Dr. Monika Dutt cannot imagine how she would have weathered the last hectic three years of meetings, strategizing and planning, on top of family practice work, without nature. “During the pandemic nature has been everything. The thing I’ve been most thankful for is outdoor space.”
Whether it was running on local trails, sitting by the ocean or just walking down a treed street, Dr. Dutt found that being in wide-open green and blue spaces was the best possible practice for her family’s mental health. So when she learned about a nature prescription program spreading across the country, she was inspired to help bring it all the way out to the east coast. Along with a team of local health professionals and learners, Dr. Dutt helped gain key endorsements from prominent health organizations across the province.
Today, PaRx, Canada’s national nature prescription program, officially launches in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), completing its rollout to all 10 provinces across the country. Health professionals across the region can now formally prescribe nature to their patients as part of their personal health-care plans.
Eric Fradsham, a third-year medical student at Memorial University who worked steadily with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment’s NL chapter to help launch PaRx locally, offers, “I’m excited to see PaRx come to NL, to encourage and allow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to engage in more outdoor activity and improve their mental and physical health.”
The Newfoundland and Labrador PaRx program is endorsed by a wide group of health professionals, from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) and Newfoundland & Labrador Nurse Practitioner Association (NLNPA), to the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Family Physicians and all four Family Practice Networks across the region.
“The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association is pleased to officially endorse the PaRx program,” offers NLMA President Dr. Kris Luscombe. “Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the highest rates of chronic disease, including obesity, and inactivity in the country. We can reduce the risks of chronic disease by living healthier lifestyles and spending more time in
nature—and that is something that most people can do to some degree regardless of where they live. It certainly helps that we live in a beautiful province with breathtaking landscapes at our doorsteps.”
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, starting in British Columbia, and since then expanding to every province across the country. Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association and recognized by the World Health Organization at COP26 for its unique approach to addressing both the health of people and the planet, PaRx now has over 8,000 prescribers across Canada.
With the launch, any licensed health-care professional can prescribe PaRx. After registering at www.parkprescriptions.ca, once verified they will receive a nature prescription file customized with a unique provider code and instructions for how to prescribe and log prescriptions.
Featuring practical, evidence-based online resources like quick prescribing tips and printable fact sheets, as well as an achievable green-time target of “2 hours per week, 20+ minutes each time,” PaRx aims to make nature prescriptions easy and effective for both prescribers and patients.
“It’s a dream come true to see PaRx launched all the way from the west coast to the east coast,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and Director of PaRx. She prescribed nature for the first time to a student battling Attention Deficit Disorder over a decade ago, and since then has become an internationally recognized advocate for the nature-health connection, championing it in her practice, at medical conferences, and through guided tours in parks.
“There's a strong and growing body of research on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety,” states Dr. Lem, who believes governments should designate parks an essential part of the health care system.
Kari Brown, Vice President of the NLNPA, is delighted at the prospect of PaRx helping her colleagues to improve patients’ lives. “Spending time outdoors, in nature, has been shown to lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugars, reduce anxiety, and improve many other chronic diseases. As nurse practitioners, we support PaRx’s nature-based prescribing and its holistic approach to patient care.”
PaRx also announced a new partnering agreement with Parks Canada in January. Licensed health-care professionals registered in the PaRx program can now help reduce barriers to accessing nature for their patients by prescribing an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass. They are asked to prioritize those who live close to national parks, national historic sites, or national marine conservation areas, and who could benefit from the pass the most. Each registered prescriber can prescribe up to one Adult Discovery Pass per month.
As summer arrives on the east coast, it’s the ideal time for health-care professionals to promote the mental and physical health benefits of heading outdoors—for both their patients’ and their own health. That’s why the BC Parks Foundation is offering free guided remote nature therapy sessions to prescribers to support their own wellbeing. “Out of gratitude for the extraordinary care health-care workers have been giving Canadians, we are offering them a rejuvenating chance to connect with nature in a deep, consistent and meaningful way,” says Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation.
The BC Parks Foundation invites other partners, governments, and funders to engage and collaborate with PaRx as it rolls out across Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of Canada.
604-343-3975 x 107
The BC Parks Foundation inspires people to enhance their health and parks through a spirit of gratitude and well-being. For more info visit bcparksfoundation.ca