Dr. Melissa Lem – Founder of Park Prescriptions

Our standard recommendation is to spend two hours a week – 20 minutes every day.

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Dr. Melissa Lem at Kw'as Park

Family physician, journalist, writer, researcher, founder, speaker, climate advocate and professor, Dr. Melissa Lem redefines what it means to be a doctor. Amidst the patient encounters and emergency calls, she decided to stand out. Following her childhood ambitions, she successfully applied her passion for nature to clinical ideologies, which everyone can embrace. Dr. Lem not only practices as a family physician in Vancouver, and in rural and northern towns elsewhere in Canada. She also writes and is a regular medical contributor for CBC TV and CTV News. Moreover, she has also debuted in Hollywood films.

Dr. Lem was a resident medical expert for four seasons on the popular CBC TV lifestyle show Steven and Chris. She researches, writes and speaks about the critical role of nature in the physical and mental health of patients. Dr. Lem is the founder and director of Canada’s national nature prescription program, PaRx, powered by the BC Parks Foundation. The unstoppable Dr. Lem also serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. Today, her childhood dreams are close to becoming a reality!

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a journalist, an archaeologist, an astronaut, and other adventurous professions – becoming a doctor was not on the list! But I grew up in a Chinese-Canadian family with 5 kids where we were all encouraged to become physicians. With high grades and good extracurriculars, I did end up in medical school. It was only when I started my training as a family physician that I realized how much I loved it. I love connecting with people, hearing their stories and being able to help them.

Dr. Melissa Lem
Dr. Melissa Lem at Belcarra Trail

Childhood Dreams Come True

Like many youngsters, Dr Melissa Lem had diverse career ideas. As a teenager, she wanted to become a journalist. She became ambitious about it after her interview in 8th grade with Global TV’s Kids Beat for winning a national geography competition. Being interviewed on camera in a studio, the thought of spending her life listening to and sharing others’ stories was exciting. She also volunteered as a reporter for the University of Toronto’s Varsity newspaper during her undergraduate degree. After her admission into medical school, she had to put her interest in journalism aside. However, it was always a part of her future plans. She eventually became a widely published writer and regular medical expert on national television networks. Surprisingly, this happened when she set about to pursue another unresolved childhood interest – acting.  

I was interested in all kinds of different things when I was a kid, and one of those things was acting – another way to tell stories and engage the artistic side of my brain. After becoming a physician, I thought, why don’t I try out acting now? So I started taking acting classes for fun, and eventually landed an agent and started auditioning. One day I came across an ad looking for a fun, female MD for a national talk show, which ended up being Steven and Chris on CBC TV, Canada’s national public broadcaster. I was on that wonderful show as a resident medical expert for 4 years.I would help write the online articles that went with my medical segments, and they liked my writing, so they asked me to write more. Eventually, I became a senior writer for the CBC. Even though this  wasn’t my original goal, saying yes to opportunities was part of what got me there!

Dr. Melissa Lem

Into Nature, Away from Bullying

Dr. Melissa at Lighthouse Park

Nature captivated Dr. Melissa Lem long before she knew about the science behind its health benefits. She spent a lot of time in the company of Mother Nature. She was totally unaware of what it would bring for her in the future. Dr. Lem shares painful memories from the past. She was subjected to racism and bullying growing up in a majority-white neighbourhood in Toronto. She experienced it throughout her schooling and adolescence period. However, her father’s blossoming garden and the bushes and trees in her schoolyard were Dr. Lem’s safe space. The beauty of mother nature was soothing and mesmerizing for her.

In nature, I felt I could be myself. No one was staring at me or teasing me.

Dr. Melissa Lem

After completing her medical education at the University of Ottawa, she chose to become a family physician. She knew her profession was going to be stressful. Therefore, she would spend time in nature-rich areas to keep stress at bay. She eventually learned that the intuitive sense she had about the health benefits of nature had an impressive foundation in scientific research.

All this time, I had been seeking out nature to de-stress without knowing about its scientific benefits. Today, I feel the happiest and most fulfilled when I am in the middle of nature. ­­I love to go on camping trips in the off-season when I feel like I have the forest to myself and my family. This personal sense of fulfilment in nature is one reason why I have made it a key focus of the work I do.

Dr. Melissa Lem

 Nature: Fourth pillar of health

Dr. Melissa Lem at Campbell Bay

Lifestyle interventions for health have three traditional pillars: good nutrition, sleep and exercise. However, Dr. Melissa Lem suggests a fourth pillar: nature. Although her personal experiences convinced her about the positive effects of spending time in nature on physical and mental health, she wanted to practise evidence-based medicine. Before taking the plunge into implementing a system of nature prescriptions, she needed to do her homework. Over a decade ago, she dived into the literature about the links between health and nature. What she found amazed her! Every study she came across backed up her thoughts! It convinced her to work on the challenge.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people rediscovered the significance of nature for their health and wellbeing after being disconnected from it for a long time. Our public health officers have said multiple times: Being outside is better than being inside. This public health message combined with our intuition that we feel better when we’re outside made our nature prescription initiative that much more compelling.

Dr. Melissa Lem

Founder of Park Prescriptions (PaRx)

In November 2020, Dr. Lem collaborated with the B.C. Parks Foundation to officially launch  Park Prescriptions (PaRx). Like prescribing medicine, she provides written prescriptions to patients for nature time. Her very first recommendation for nature time was to a young man struggling with ADHD at the University of Toronto. Today, she prescribes it for several other conditions.

Dr. Melissa Lem at English Bay

Dr. Lem calls on licensed healthcare workers, including other doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists to become champions for this concept. She invites regulated healthcare professionals in Canada to sign up on their website and join the movement to prescribe nature. So far, almost 9000 healthcare professionals across the country have joined the movement. This includes over 5 per cent of all practising physicians in the country, just a year and a half after launch. Dr. Lem is proud of the progress of PaRx, and looks forward to leading it into the next chapter!

Our standard recommendation is to spend at least two hours a week in nature and at least20 minutes each time. And it’s backed up by science.

Dr. Melissa Lem

Dr. Melissa Lem encourages medical students and doctors to eat well, sleep well, exercise and spend time with nature. This increases resilience! Taking time away from work to invest in self-care is essential.

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