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Restorative Practice Program Offers Medical Students Insights on Building an Inclusive Culture

Tizeta Wolde appreciates the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s efforts to support diversity, inclusion and equity.  A second-year medical student whose family is from Ethiopia, Wolde is actively involved in the school’s new Restorative Practice Program. “We meet monthly, talk about our experiences and learn from each other,” said Wolde.

Nanette Vega, Ed.D., left, and medical student Tizeta Wolde.
Nanette Vega, Ed.D., left, and medical student Tizeta Wolde.

Offered through the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement to all Miller School students, the Restorative Practice Program consists of a monthly series of lunchtime discussion sessions that promote individual participation. “Restorative practices provide a framework for building a supportive and inclusive culture,” said Nanette Vega, Ed.D., executive director.  “When people come together for restorative interactions they sit in circles in which everyone feels that they are seen, heard, and respected.”

First offered on a pilot basis during the summer, the Miller School’s Restorative Practice Program was recognized as a “Program of Distinction” in September at the Florida conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).

The NASPA-Florida awards are designed to celebrate strong programs and services provided for students throughout the state, according to Dr. Vega.

She said the Restorative Practice Program also links the diversity of the university’s student population to the South Florida community. “Our program explores cultural assumptions, and teaches medical students to look beyond someone’s race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, family status, or disability,” she said.

For students like Wolde, the Restorative Practice Program provides a supportive setting to discuss issues related to identity and personal experiences. “As a black female aspiring to enter the medical profession, my experiences and perspectives are unique,” she said.

After coming to the U.S. from Ethiopia, Wolde earned her bachelor’s degree at University of California – Riverside, before moving to Miami. She completed a year-long public health program and entered the Miller School of Medicine in fall 2018.

“The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement does an excellent job in supporting students from different backgrounds, and this program is another step forward,” said Wolde.  She was introduced to the restorative practice concept as a teaching assistant in the Medical Scholars Fellowship Program. This summer initiative offered by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement provides academic enrichment and career exploration for highly motivated underrepresented minority students who are preparing for a career in the health professions. “Our summer medical scholars really enjoyed talking about their cultural experiences, their identities and how they impact careers in health care,” said Wolde.

Drawing on that positive feedback, Dr. Vega rolled out the program for Miller School students this fall. “We want our students to better understand their personal values, biases and attitudes, and build a sense of community in which they feel that they are seen, heard, and respected,” she said. “It is vital for medical professionals to recognize the importance of eliminating health disparities and advancing health equity.”

Tags: Nanette Vega, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Restorative Practice Program