Physician Staffing Blog


Doctor’s Orders: Make Time for Nature

Merritt Hawkins Team | January 11, 2018

Physicians, Don't Skip Out on Nature

In recent years, increased demands and time pressures associated with implementation of the Affordable Care Act have greatly exacerbated physician stress levels. New rules and regulations not only necessitate seeing more patients, they also require physicians to learn and implement new electronic medical record systems (EMRs) and comply with additional controls. While everyone experiences stress, new research on its triggers reveals how one’s physical environment can make a big difference in countering the negative effects of stress.

Surroundings Matter: Did you know that over half of the global population—and a whopping 90% of practicing physicians—currently live and work in urban environments? It’s true; life in an urban setting can really take its toll and is associated with increases in mental illness—including depression. While your physician work schedule may not allow you to fully disconnect from the bright lights of the big city, spending time in a natural environment is a great way to reinvigorate your mental and physical health.

Make Time for Nature: A 2015 study by Stanford University researchers revealed that rumination—a pattern of repetitive thoughts focused on negative aspects of the self, and a known risk factor for mental illness—was reduced for one group of participants after a 90-minute walk through a natural environment. This group showed lower levels of blood flow to areas of the brain associated with rumination.  Another group of study participants walked for 90 minutes through an urban environment. Unlike their counterparts who walked through a natural environment, this second group did not experience reduced effects on rumination or reduced neural activity in parts of the brain associated with increased risk for mental illness, specifically the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC). In other studies, the sgPFC has been connected with a self-focused behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination in both healthy and depressed individuals. The results of this controlled experiment add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that regular access to natural areas may be crucial for good mental health in a quickly urbanizing world.

Use Nature to Nurture: In addition to adding some nature time to your schedule, think about parking farther away than usual from your clinical practice or hospital and walking the rest of the way to work. Or, if you commute via public transportation, exit the train or subway a few stations before your regular stop. Many parks, even those in large cities, often have established exercise courses and equipment that anyone can use, offering a nice alternative to going to the gym. Remember, it’s all about choice. While your professional life may require you to pound the pavement each and every day, an abundant amount of research indicates that those who routinely spend time in nature have less stress, experience fewer health issues, spend less on healthcare and, on average, live longer.

A Prescription for Success: Getting Outside Benefits Mind, Body and Spirit by:

  • Increasing Vitamin D Levels: Regular sunlight exposure is a great way to enhance mood and decrease anxiety and depression 
  • Improving Cardiovascular Health: Boost overall fitness levels and help build and sustain muscle and bone tissue by raising your heart rate 
  • Reducing Obesity: Dropping extra weight can help reduce stress on joints, and keeping those extra pounds off will motivate you to venture out more frequently.

Get Out There: Merritt Hawkins will help you strike the perfect work/life balance by listening to your specific career needs. Ready for something different? We can help.  Contact us today!

1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation” by Bratman, Gregory N., et al., published June 2015


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