Health and Wellbeing Research at the OU – Lynne Watson: Nursing, Nature and Humankind

Walter Perry, the founding
Vice-Chancellor of The Open University had a vision for the university to be at
the cutting edge of both education and research and was instrumental in
ensuring that the OU engaged in research in health and wellbeing.
50 years on we take a look at some of the exciting work taking place today. This is Health and Wellbeing Research at The Open University My name is Lynne Watson, I’m a Staff Tutor
at The Open University and I’m taking an Education Doctorate looking at nursing,
nature and humankind. At The Open University we teach nursing students the
art and science to become skilled, competent nurses and to practice up
their profession. Their education includes many aspects necessary to
become competent skilled, registered nurses and that includes a focus on
person-centred care, understanding what that centre is means that as a nurse,
once you have the deepest privilege of sharing an experience or journey with
another person, you also need to blend your professional skills with the
beliefs and values of another. The importance of nature for many
individuals is linked to the concept of Biophilia, which describes a bond between
humans and the environment. In considering this affinity it is
important to consider our roots, in order to understand the things that give
meaning and purpose to life and to living. For many people it is a connection
with our environment, which is so important, whether their immediate
surroundings, such as where they live and work, or a wider definition, such as their
town, birthplace or even the natural world. Aspects such as daylight, being
able to see out of a window, even fresh air are all linked to our experience of
nature. For some people however this goes much deeper, and as nurses we need to be
mindful of the many situations which make up the lives of our service users.
The National Health Service is a great organization, and one which we all – at one time or another – be grateful for. However the name of this fantastic
establishment should be enough to make each one of us question what is health
and what does that mean to us as an individual. Health does not necessarily
mean being free from disease or illness nor does it particularly mean being at
the peak of fitness or strength. It could relate more comfortably to wellbeing or
welfare, but in truth health is as complex and as unique as each one
of us. Nature is often seen in context with our emotional health and wellbeing,
yet in published research it was noted that physical recovery from surgery was
swifter when individuals could enjoy a view from a window.
This suggests that hospital design should consider the outside environment,
and that this is important in all areas of healthcare. Whilst embracing nature within a
clinical environment may be challenging technology provides us was the potential
to create innovative clinical spaces where elements of nature can be included
in a patient-centred approach. The inclusion of nature is already being
achieved in many areas in the United Kingdom, and we are catching up with
other European countries, where the importance of nature has already been
embedded within healthcare . The broader aspects of nature, like pets as therapy and
social and therapeutic horticulture have formed part of academic discussion and
hospital gardens are once again being seen as an important addition to healthcare.
The point is however, that as we continue to expand our urban and indeed our
clinical environments, the place and importance of nature can be lost, and
that fact may be to the detriment of us all. Nature plays an important part in
the development of the nursing and wellbeing curriculum at The Open
University, this presents itself in free courses available through Open Learn, but
also by positively influencing in the path to sustainability of the NHS.
We may not return to a time of flowers by the bedside, but with advances in technology
the potential to embrace nature as a component of person-centred care, which
includes green care as fundamental to humankind, may ultimately result in
personalised healthcare environments building resilience and supporting recovery.

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