July 12, 2016

Detour Interest Group provides academic and emotional support to struggling students

Written by
The Detour Interest Group is putting a face to resilience.  

Detour resized 1From left to right: Mary Campbell, Alex Edgil, Leslie Pensa and Heather MooreCreated in January by four medical students, Detour exists primarily to support recycling students—those who have to repeat a year in medical school because of academic difficulty— in their current and future academic endeavors, but also embraces the needs of academically high risk students, remediating students and students who fail any portion of the USMLE.

“Everything that can happen in a person's life can happen during medical school, and these events often have a profound impact on academic performance,” said Laura Kezar, M.D., associate dean for Students.

When the founding members of Detour—Leslie Pensa, Alex Edgil, Zeb Akers and Heather Moore—met for the first time, all four were recycling students, but each one of them for a slightly different reason.

Pensa, second-year medical student and Detour president, remembered a quote from Zig Ziglar saying, “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” The group unanimously felt that this encompassed each of their unique situations; thus, Detour was born.

Detour works with Medical Student Services to help students unmask and understand the reasons for their struggles. Together, Detour and MSS help provide viable options for students to fill their time if they take a leave of absence.

Some of the options recommended include beginning a Master’s degree in public health or taking post-baccalaureate or graduate classes in the area that the student is struggling in.

“We can also help direct students to counseling services, such as the Professional Development Office, or in the case of a learning disability, to Disability Support Services,” Pensa said.

In addition to offering academic and emotional support to struggling students, the members of Detour are also working to eliminate the stigma associated with failure in medical school.

“When I found out I would have to recycle, it felt like there was a big stigma associated with it,” said Mary Campbell, first-year medical student and newest member of Detour. “I felt really alone and isolated.”

By publically speaking to their peers about personal struggles, Detour members hope to spread the message that it is okay to talk about failure and that no one has to overcome their obstacles alone.

“We want to have a public face so that if someone needs to come and talk to us, they know that we are here and we can help them,” said Edgil, second-year medical student and administration chair for Detour. “But we also have a very private aspect to our group, where we work one-on-one to support and mentor one another.”

For more information about The Detour Interest Group or how to get involved, students can contact Leslie Pensa at lesanne@uab.edu.