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Skidmore College
Project on Restorative Justice

Prescribing Restorative Justice for Education in the Health Professions

The Rx for RJ Project introduces restorative practices education in the health professions as a way to address learner mistreatment and provide a community-building response to improve the learning environment. Restorative practices foster ethical development and interpersonal communication skills consistent with medical ethics and professional standards for lifelong success in medicine.

“Hospital behaviors that may have been tolerated in the past are clearly viewed differently now, and can no longer be accepted in the future. Any form of mistreatment negatively affects the culture and climate of medical schools and teaching hospitals.” (Acosta and Cunningham 2014)

Over the past fifty years, numerous reports have described the medical school learning environment as abusive and stressful for students. In the past, abuses were considered “unavoidable” and necessary hardships that students must overcome so that they may become an effective medical professional (Kassebaum and Cutler, 1998). More recent research, however, has demonstrated that an abusive learning environment may have long term consequences for medical professionals that can negatively impact academic performance, competency, professionalism, and health (Dyrbye et al., 2005). Current students believe that abuses, while uncommon, are still occurring and manifested through the use of insensitive language by attendants and residents, unequal distribution of classroom resources, and unfair or unclear academic expectations. Faculty confirm that students might feel mistreated, but that oftentimes these feelings come about because of miscommunication or because there are too few spaces where educators and students could share in collaborative dialogue. Although some policies and procedures have empowered students to better hold faculty and residents accountable for misconduct, it does not yet provide an effective means to bridge hierarchical differences between educators and learners. New forums of interaction can be developed so that a more positive learning environment can be co-created by faculty, residents, and students. These spaces for interaction can be developed through the introduction of restorative justice practices.

Restorative justice (RJ) is a global social movement which focuses on seeking educational and reparative solutions to crime, misconduct, and conflict. In higher education, RJ is a collaborative decision-making process that includes harmed parties and those who caused harm. Though facilitated dialogue, these stakeholders specify the harm and seek ways to repair it and rebuild community trust. Restorative practices have been demonstrated to be effective in a variety of settings including criminal justice (Strang and Sherman 2007), K-12 Schools (Thorsborne 2015), and universities (Karp and Sacks 2014).


Behel, Jay M., and Adrienne S. Lawson. 2018. "Healing the Healers." AAMC News.

Acosta, David and David R. Karp. 2017. "Restorative Justice as the Rx for Mistreatment in Academic Medicine: Applications to Consider for Learners, Faculty and Staff.” Academic Medicine 93: 354-356. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002037

Acosta, David and Paul G. Cunningham. 2014. "Restorative Justice to Resolve Learner and Differential Mistreatment." Wing of Zock.


UC Davis Medical School Rx for RJ Training Group

Rx for RJ Google Group

Join this community of practice for discussion: Rx for RJ Google Group

Project Team

Jay Behel, PhD (Project Coordinator), is Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Rush Medical College where he directs student professional development and wellness initiatives and supports processes for community-building and addressing student mistreatment. He also is a clinical psychologist and director of Geriatric & Rehabilitation Psychology at Rush University Medical Center and is the education director for the LGBTQ Health Committee at Rush. Dr. Behel completed his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University with majors in English and psychology.  He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Auburn University and then completed a residency and fellowship at Rush. Dr. Behel has published and presented extensively on a range of topics including adjustment to disability, physician communication and, more recently, several aspects of medical education. 

David A. Acosta, MD, is the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, providing strategic vision and leadership for the AAMC’s diversity and inclusion activities across the medical education community, and leads the association’s Diversity Policy and Programs unit. A physician of family medicine, Dr. Acosta joined the AAMC from the University of California (UC), Davis School of Medicine where he served as senior associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion and associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for UC Davis Health System. He previously served as the inaugural chief diversity officer at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, where he established a rural health fellowship program for Tacoma Family Medicine, a residency program affiliated with the UW Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Acosta received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola University and earned his medical degree from the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He completed his residency training at Community Hospital of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a faculty development fellowship at the UW Department of Family Medicine.

David R. Karp is Professor of Sociology at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. His scholarship focuses on restorative justice in community and campus settings and on prison programs preparing inmates for return to the community. He was the recipient of the 2010 Donald D. Gehring Award from the Association for Student Conduct Administration for his work on campus restorative justice. David has published more than 100 academic papers and six books, including The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges and Universities (2013) and Restorative Justice on the College Campus (2004). David is the Principal Investigator of a multi-campus research project on student conduct practices called the STARR Project (Student Accountability and Restorative Research Project). He is also a volunteer mediator and a restorative justice facilitator and trainer. David received a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Washington.

Adrienne Lawson-Thompson serves as the Director of Institutional Culture/Climate and Community Engagement with the Office for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, California. Her primary responsibilities at the health system includes working with Senior Leadership in the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Physicians Practice Board, UC Davis Medical Center and Medical Education on climate needs assessment and reporting; professional leadership development for faculty, staff, students; continuous diversity improvement; and community engagement. Adrienne has a doctorate in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies. Her research interest is broad in scope, which includes culture and climate change in organizations, transformational leadership, restorative justice practices, diverse faculty, staff retention and recruitment.

Holly Northam (RN, RM) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canberra. Holly has extensive clinical experience in critical care including and organ and tissue donation practice. Holly’s PhD, ‘Hope for a peaceful death and organ donation’ explored bereaved families experiences of organ donation decision-making. Holly is a 2006 Churchill Fellow and a Director on the Boards of Donor Families Australia and Sharelife Australia. Holly convenes and teaches at postgraduate and undergraduate level and supervises HDR students. Holly’s research interests include end of life care, restorative practices in health care, cultural sensitivity in health care, international nurse student’s experiences, adult resiliency, and donor –recipient communication. 

Toni McMurphy specializes in the design of customized restorative processes and facilitating win-win outcomes in emotionally charged situations. Toni recently served as Vice President of Culture and Campus Life for St. Louis College of Pharmacy for six years, where she successfully integrated restorative practice in Student Conduct, Title IX cases, Bias Incident Response, and for numerous conflicts on campus. She is an expert in creating safe and brave spaces that foster authentic dialogue around harm and accountability and unpack the distinction between intent and impact. Toni is known for inspiring people to bring out the best in themselves and each other in challenging situations and regularly facilitates courageous conversation in a wide variety of settings on myriad topics.  Recent projects include facilitating restorative responses to sexual misconduct cases, responding to bias incidents on campus and in communities where racial tensions are high and facilitating difficult conversations between students and administration, faculty and administration, management and employees and police officers and people who are incarcerated. As an Organizational Development Practitioner for the past 25 years, she has worked with more than 65,000 people in over 230 organizations. Toni is a certified “Diversity Facilitrainer,” and is certified to teach Crucial Conversations, Unconscious Bias, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.