Study shows hospital garden helps to reduce emotional exhaustion in nurses.

Image courtesy of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center

Hospitals may help reduce burnout among nurses by creating natural, green spaces, new research indicates. 

The “Impact of Nurses Taking Daily Work Breaks in a Hospital Garden on Burnout” study, published in the American Journal of Critical Care, compared two groups of nurses at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Ore.

For six weeks, 29 nurses took work breaks either indoors or in A Nature Place, the hospital’s therapeutic garden. Both groups were measured for burnout before and after the six-week period. Nurses who spent breaks in the garden scored better on emotional exhaustion and cynicism.

Legacy Emanuel’s garden offers the benefits of nature on hospital grounds. Designed and funded through a grant by the TKF Foundation, the 6,500-square-foot, suspended garden features a canopy of mature trees and year-round plants.

The garden is easily accessible from a large, public hallway and connected to the hospital’s family birth center and cardiovascular intensive care unit. Visitors enter a welcome plaza lined with benches that leads to a walkway that runs the length of the garden and a large, circular overlook deck.

The garden’s design includes four elements that the TKF Foundation, through its Nature Sacred program, considers vital for creating a “sacred place.” A portal, such as a door or archway, helps visitors transition into the green space. A path element helps visitors feel grounded. A destination point, such as A Nature Place’s overlook, provides a sense of discovery. Its enclosure of plants and trees promotes a feeling of safety, the fourth element.

Burnout can have severe consequences among nurses. The increased stress and cynicism can lower the quality of patient care, which raises health care costs. It can also lead to lower morale, increasing staff turnover. Access to green spaces may help mitigate the symptoms of burnout, the researchers pointed out.

“[Co-principal investigator Serene Perkins] believed that this proves there’s this relationship between exposure to nature and a positive effect on hospital employees,” says Hollie Allen, grant officer at Legacy Health’s Office of Philanthropy. “Time will tell, but Legacy really took this question seriously.”