Nooshin Razani, 43, originally from Los Angeles, is a pediatrician practicing at a low-income clinic which doubles as an academic center in Oakland, California.
As a part of her recent work at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, she prescribes nature to her patients as a way to relieve stress and to deal with social isolation.
“The biggest problem we see now is loneliness and isolation,” she said.“We serve an incredibly diverse patient base with the common thread of everyone living in poverty.”
She said even though it would seem like nature would be a low priority to those who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have housing, it’s not.
“Nature is like a mother’s love. It’s very enriching, and we want people to see it as a human right and something that is indispensable.”
a NATURAL EVOLUTION
Nooshin grew up in Los Angeles but spent many years in Iran when she was younger. In both places, she was surrounded by nature. In L.A., it was the beach. In Iran, it was her family’s farm.
“I feel like a have an actual relationship with the beach, and in Iran, the Persian and the pre-Islamic cultures are all about the seasons and nature as a part of everything,” she said.
A UC Berkeley graduate, she said for her, nature has always been the same thing as a community because that’s where she saw people.
Nooshin said she sees the health of the planet the same as human health.
“I don’t see much distinction between when we see vulnerable species that become endangered or suffering and human beings,” she said. “Partly because I work with young children, pregnant women, and new mothers who are our vulnerable population. To me, it’s all one health.”
She said when she had hard times or was going through things with her family her relationship with the ocean and with nature helped her through it. She said nature is a form of social support that we’re all missing out on a little bit.
Nooshin suggested one way to help people connect and care more about nature is to have them experience nature and to have them feel like they belong and that it’s theirs.
“I grew up in the 70s and watched a lot of TV,” she said. “A lot of parents now still don’t know how to be in nature, but I think it’s a skill. It’s not easy. It’s easy to judge parents for keeping their children indoors, but as a species we’re losing the skill of how to be outdoors and how to experience the earth.”
the SCIENCE, the WORK
Based on science and with help from other clinics around the world, Nooshin said her work includes taking basic information about the health benefits from things in nature and introducing them to people in practical ways in their everyday life.
“We just finished doing a randomized trial of the health benefits of our program,” she said. “When we prescribe nature we pick a group of children out and shuttle them to the clinic then we all go out to the park together.”
Nooshin partners with park officials for a warm welcome. She said by doing so it speaks to the goal of having low-income children and children of color feel welcomed in public spaces.
After a warm welcome there is a fun multicultural icebreaker that draws the children’s attention. There are games involving crawling, saying names, and playing tag. Next comes the picnic and then following the picnic the group then engages in another physical activity that teaches them about exploring nature and their surrounding.
“The children touch and feel things and explore what it means to be outside and in nature,” she said. “We always try to have some kind of captivating and awe-inspiring nature experience in one of our locations.”
Nooshin said some of the parks they have taken the children to were the famous Redwood Regional Park, Crab Cove, and other close parks. The total trip time spent outside is about three hours.
She said her work with children in nature was based on environmental educators’ work on how to engage urban populations in nature.
“A lot of the literature surrounding this points to personal benefits including stress relief, which is measured by blood pressures, cortisol levels, and other means,” she said. “As far as interpersonal benefits, the quality of human interaction seems to go up in nature.”She said when people have meaningful wilderness experiences, they seem to remember the human component of the experience just as much as the wilderness component..
She said when people have meaningful wilderness experiences, they seem to remember the human component of the experience just as much as the wilderness component.
“There’s something about being with other people in nature that makes the social experience even better,” she said. “The social component is that it helps with isolation. Being with people gives them an opportunity to create social ties.”
Nooshin said she works with a lot of isolated people whether they are new immigrants, homeless or have other reasons not to have a stable support network.
“I think it might be new or different to think of that network coming from your doctor’s office, but we’re seeing how it works,” she said.
COMMUNITY as DEFINED
“I wish a community was more geographically defined. I wished it was more of who or what you lived near because I think that would help us advocate for the earth,” she said.
She pointed to the walkability movement happening in cities across the country as how a community is being redefined as the physical space around its inhabitants.
“Because I come from people in exile who are displaced, there’s so much love and pain in the word ‘community,” Nooshin said. “My community is all over the entire globe. There’s new context of the word transcending time and space that’s helping us to maintain our identity and love for each other.”
Nooshin said a part of her community is made up of multiple species, too.
“I have trees that I consider my best friends, and places upon places I consider my community.”
Nooshin said in order for people to find community in nature there has to be an agency factor.
“It can’t just be that people visit land, enjoy it, and then have to leave, but a place where they can really be involved in a relationship with it.”
Nooshin said she wishes there was more public land where people could grow food or have a direct say in what’s going on with public space around them. She said that’s the next step.
“We try to tell the patients we work with that no matter how disenfranchised they feel these are their parks, and so it’s more than just tourism, it’s them going to their own spaces and them feeling responsibility for them and wanting to help take care of them.”
She said in the near future, she wants to add a legislative and advocacy branch to her work with the clinic. She said things are happening quickly and that with pressing issues like global warming it’s best not to wait.
“Because of what happened in Flint, Michigan people saw what happens when we neglect our environment,” she said. “I think health care providers need to be activist and on the forefront of fighting for nature and other things that are crucial for human health.”
Nooshin was quoted in National Geographic Magazine last year and was then contacted by TedxNashville to come and speak and share her ideas with the city.
“I was so honored and excited to come and speak in Nashville,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I was asked to do a TEDTalk, so I’m so happy.”
Nooshin said she’s excited that this idea of hers get to have space and reach more people. Catch her on Day 1 of TedxNashville Friday, April 15th!
Thanks for reading, Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.