Dr. Robert Zarr, MD, MPH
Founder and Medical Director, Park Rx America
Pediatrician, Unity Health Care
Dr. Robert Zarr is a board-certified pediatrician at Unity Health Care, located in Washington, DC, where he cares for low-income and immigrant populations. He is Founder and Medical Director of Park Rx America, a community health initiative to prescribe nature to patients and families to prevent and treat chronic disease and promote wellness. He previously served as the Park Rx Advisor to the National Park Service in his national advocacy to connect people to parks.
Park Rx America: One doctor's perspective on prescribing parks
For the past 20 years, I've been practicing primary care pediatrics in a community health center right here in our nation's capital. Every day, I have the privilege of listening to my patients and hearing their stories, and looking for opportunities to help them improve their lives. There is nothing more satisfying to me than to develop relationships with my patients, and to connect them with resources virtually in their "backyard".
Dr. Robert Zarr, Washington D.C. pediatrician and president of the national Physicians for a National Health Program organization, speaks to the annual meeting of Physicians for a National Health Program, November 2014, in New Orleans.
Many people ask me why I have taken such a strong liking to prescribing parks. One reason is the preponderance of scientific studies showing the connections between improved health and time spent outdoors in natural settings. Over 400 correlational studies have thus far showed improved health outcomes directly related to time spent in nature. It is rare for doctors to find such an accessible and inexpensive intervention that positively impacts a wide breath of chronic disease, ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure to obesity to depression and many other serious mental illnesses, found in all ages. It is also quite satisfying and reassuring to find an intervention with few side effects. It is therefore, with strong conviction, that I have taken to prescribing parks to prevent and treat chronic disease, promote well-being, and rekindle a connection between people and the outdoor world. Because of my desire to share what I have found personally and professionally to be so rewarding, I have helped my colleagues both here and around the country adopt park prescription into their daily routine of providing clinical care.
I am interested in change, and I believe we can alter the culture of medicine by speaking the language of clinicians, while at the same time, offering an alternative or supplement (to medications and procedures) that makes sense, and is easy to use.
I am the founder and medical director of Park Rx America (formally DC Park Rx), a non-profit organization whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by virtue of prescribing Nature during the routine delivery of healthcare. Park Rx America (PRA) works closely with managers of publicly-accessible land and water, as well as directly with healthcare providers and their respective organizations, to "make it easy" to prescribe parks and other protected areas to their patients real-time in the clinical practice setting.
PRA has collaborated closely with park agencies, healthcare provider organizations, academic institutions, and Departments of Health, to create a scalable park prescribing model, to bring to urban centers where we find concentrations of chronically ill and underutilized green space.
As a physician, I will continue to prescribe parks as part of my routine practice. As an advocate, I will continue to share our park prescription model with as many individuals and organizations committed to incorporating our low-cost and accessible intervention to improve health outcomes and overall wellness. For more information, please feel free to visit our website, ParkRxAmerica.org to see firsthand how to find the most appropriate park for you and for your patients!