A nurse standing outside a hospital ward
Dolph Smith, RN

Dolph Smith, RN, staff nurse in the MGH Emergency Department (ED), has always enjoyed gardening. Whether it’s flowers, fruits or vegetables, tending to his plants helps him maintain a sense of balance in his personal life after long shifts in the ED. Now, as summer arrives and his fresh produce sprouts, Smith is using his green thumb to give back.

Smith has been a nurse for 25 years, the last three at Mass General. He initially came to the MGH as a travel nurse, but quickly realized he wanted to stay long-term.

“As a travel nurse, I’ve been everywhere,” Smith says. “Here, it’s like a family. Everyone gets along and watches out for each other in the ED. Things got tough during the pandemic, but we all stuck together and got through it.”

Smith says he, like many health care workers, struggled with the uncertainty that initially surrounded COVID-19. Following his own bout with the virus, he decided to focus more on the things that make him happy outside of work – volunteering in his community and gardening.

Smith’s home garden.

On his 9,000 square-foot property in Ludlow, Massachusetts, Smith maintains more than 20 fruit trees and 24 raised garden beds for produce.

“My yard might be tiny, but I keep it well-manicured and donate all of the food I grow,” Smith says. “I volunteer at a local homeless shelter and bring my produce there. It’s rewarding to be able to give healthy, organic food to people who don’t usually have access to it.”

Smith says nursing will always be his passion, but Smith believes strongly in having hobbies and interests that promote well-being at home. When colleagues ask what keeps him motivated after more than two decades in emergency nursing, he credits the therapeutic aspects of getting down in the dirt and connecting to nature.

“Nurses never stop being nurses,” Smith says, “but it’s important for me to leave my stress at the door after every shift. When I’m in my garden, it’s almost like I have a separate life – a separate identity. By knowing my limits and setting boundaries, I’m able to be the best nurse I can be for my patients.”

Smith’s home garden.

Smith encourages everyone – health care workers and otherwise – to discover an activity they are passionate about. Whether it’s baking, painting or working on cars, he says everyone deserves to experience the joy of “getting back to the basics.”

“For me, being in the dirt and the sun brings me back to nature and makes me appreciate things a bit more,” Smith says. “It’s a different type of relaxation – when I’m in my garden, nothing else matters. My neighbors always tell me it looks like so much work, but I just say work is back in Boston.”