The mistreatment of learners is an ongoing issue at U.S. medical schools. According to responses to the 2017 Association of American Medical Colleges Graduation Questionnaire, 39.3% of medical students nationally reported being mistreated. Many articles have been published on the topic of mistreatment at medical schools over the last 20 years. These articles have focused primarily on the definition of mistreatment, the impact of mistreatment, and initiatives put into place to help mitigate the problem. To date, very little attention has been paid to repairing the harm caused by mistreatment and rebuilding community trust. Academic medicine is in need of new forums of interaction to achieve more positive learning and workplace environments.
The authors discuss restorative justice practices and the potential applications that they may have in academic medicine learning and workplace environments to serve vulnerable students, faculty, and staff who are targets of mistreatment. Restorative justice practices are used to convene groups of people to engage in substantive dialogue about consequential issues that impede community functioning. This process can help a group identify and gain mutual understanding of the personal and collective harm that has occurred, create the conditions that incentivize offenders to admit responsibility rather than deny or minimize the harm, and explore and define a set of problem-solving steps to address the harm and rebuild community trust.