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When Brooklyn Rawlyk and Sehjal Bhargava met on a bus to a cross-country meet in high school, they immediately struck up a friendship. Both had a passion for wellness and the great outdoors, and were determined to attend medical school—and as they continued to train and race together under prairie skies, their appreciation for the role of nature in helping them get through tough runs and tough times grew. Now that both of them are medical students at the University of Saskatchewan, they’ve joined forces once again to help launch PaRx, Canada’s first national nature prescription program, in their home province.
Thanks to their advocacy through the Saskatchewan chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) passed their resolution to support PaRx this spring. Today, PaRx officially launches in Saskatchewan. With endorsements from major health partners like the SMA, Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners, Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians and Saskatchewan Public Health Association, local doctors, nurse practitioners, and other licensed healthcare professionals will now be able to prescribe doses of nature to their patients.
Like many healthcare workers, the pandemic hit hard for Rawlyk. “Every week started to feel like final exams with the isolation and so many hours indoors,” she offers. But like many Canadians, turning to the outdoors was a respite for her: “The time I took to run and immerse myself in nature has been a saving grace."
For Bhargava, the health benefits of connecting patients to nature extend far deeper than their individual wellbeing. “I see PaRx as a powerful connector between human health and the health of the planet. Not only does spending time in nature improve patients’ health, but it also encourages them to reflect on the importance of nature and conserving it."
Nature prescriptions were named one of the top eight global wellness trends in 2019, and are being implemented around the world. The UK and other countries are now investing in park prescription pilots to help address mental and physical health problems and the resulting strain on their health care systems and economies.
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, starting in British Columbia, and expanding to Ontario in February 2021. Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association, it has garnered widespread enthusiasm across the country, with over 800 prescribers now registered.
Any licensed health-care professional can prescribe PaRx. 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.
“I’m incredibly excited that PaRx is launching in its first Prairie province,” 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 advocate for the nature-health connection, championing it in her practice, at medical conferences and 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.
“Lifestyle is a major contributor to health, and as physicians we promote healthy lifestyles for our patients,” offers SMA President Dr. Eben Strydom. “Through PaRx physicians can provide a written prescription, as opposed to advice, that hopefully will be more effective to connect patients with nature, improving their health."
Dr. Wanda Martin, Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan, is keen to see nature prescriptions spread across the province by her colleagues, saying, “Registered nurses, through their work in diverse practice settings in close relationship with patients and communities, can play a key role in expanding PaRx within Saskatchewan.”
As COVID-19 rates drop across the country and warmer weather arrives, 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 healthcare 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 in Saskatchewan and across Canada.
604-343-3975 x 107
The BC Parks Foundation inspires British Columbians and our friends around the world to enhance parks through a spirit of gratitude and well-being. For more info visit bcparksfoundation.ca.