New study out: Reduced symptoms of burnout noted in nurses who spent one break a day in a hospital garden

We have some good green science to share today; some we’re happy to say the TKF Foundation has had a hand in helping bring to light. It involves compelling evidence of nature’s capacity to help address burnout — what many, including the Society for Human Resource Management, have described as an epidemic in the workplace.

In this latest study resulting from our National Nature Sacred Awards program, researchers studied the impact of a hospital garden on burnout among nurses. Researchers at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, OR, documented a clear improvement in burnout-related symptoms, from emotional exhaustion to depersonalization (think cynicism), among nurses who took one of their daily breaks in a hospital garden rather than in an indoors break room.

Roger Ulrich, Ph.D., a lead researcher on the nurses and burnout study.

The lead researcher on the project, Roger Ulrich, PhD, said that while burnout is a problem in a great many occupations, it is particularly prevalent among nurses and doctors, especially those working in hospitals. “I see this as a strong argument for outdoor garden breaks to be used, together with other interventions, to moderate burnout and stress,” he said.

The garden where the nurses spent their break time in the study was partially funded by a TKF grant, which supported a cluster of studies including the one described here. The garden, named “A Nature Place”, incorporates the Sacred Place elements of portal, path, destination and surround.


The study, in a sound-bite

Even micro-doses of nature have the potential to help stem the symptoms of burnout for nurses; nurses responsible for literally thousands of people in their care each year.

American Journal of Critical Care

Why this research matters

A recent Gallup survey found that burnout impacts as many as two-thirds of American full-time workers to some degree, with 23 percent reporting feeling burned out often. Among nurses, a third are believed to experience high levels of burnout. It is a pressing problem that cuts across occupations of all kinds, industries and settings; its impact spidering and immense. For workers, it can eat away at their mental and physical health in a myriad of ways and can even shorten lifespans. An estimated $125 – $190 billion in healthcare spending is attributed to burnout each year.

It leads to absences, errors on the job, low workplace morale. For employers, this translates to a financial cost estimated at $300 billion annually.

The takeaway

Nature presents us with a very real means to address workplace burnout. In this study, once daily, nurses spent a brief break, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, in a hospital garden; and a positive effect was noted after just 6 weeks. Meaningful green spaces represent an achievable means to help tackle burnout – and not just in hospitals, but in all kinds of workplaces.

Who should take note

Anyone and everyone working to create healthier workplaces; from HR directors to corporate boards. This paper should help shape modern employee workplace programs.

The study was published in the American Journal of Critical Care and is freely available to download and read in full: Impact of Nurses Taking Daily Work Breaks in Hospital Garden on Burnout.

Become an influencer

We invite you to help ensure this research makes it into the hands of decision-makers throughout the country. We encourage you to share this post, which includes a link to the study.

Learn more about creating Sacred Places in hospital settings

See a short film on A Nature Place at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

Read about the elements of therapeutic spaces as described by Legacy Emanuel horticultural therapist Teresia Hazen.

Read this previously published Q&A with lead researcher, Roger Ulrich.