by Natasha Sosa
Today’s the day.
All those years of cramming for chemistry classes and prepping for physics tests have led to this moment: your chance to prove yourself to your dream medical school. The two minutes seem like hours as you review the prompt on the door, which asks you to consider the ethical implications of embryonic stem cell research and discuss them with the interviewer inside.
Eventually, the door opens, and you step into the room. Time’s up – your first mini interview has begun.
Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs), such as the one described, are part of a relatively new type of interview technique. While most medical schools conduct typical interviews, some medical schools here in the US, in addition to many Canadian medical schools, have adopted this new format. American medical schools that use the MMI format include Stanford, UC Davis, UCLA, University of Cincinati, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Oregon Health Science University, and more.
In contrast to the traditional one-on-one interview, the MMI format has interviewees travel to multiple stations, where they will encounter a prompt on which they are to speak for several minutes. Students are given a few minutes to read over the prompt, which can deal with anything from ethical dilemmas to roleplaying scenarios that physicians may encounter.
They will then either discuss the topic with the interviewer or interact with actors while the interviewer grades them on their performance. As these are meant to be “mini” interviews, candidates are only given a set length of time in which to complete the task, after which they must move on. Each station has a different topic and rater, so if one station doesn’t go well, the candidate gets a fresh start on the next one.
The movement away from the traditional interview is spurred in part by its inability to accurately predict which candidates will become good doctors. According to a report released by McGill University in Canada, the university which pioneered the MMI format, over half of the variation in the ratings of traditional interviews was due to interviewer differences. This means that, depending on the interviewer you get and the day they’ve had, your score can vary significantly. The MMI format tries to reduce the effect of interviewer bias by using a greater number of interviewers in shorter interviews.
Furthermore, the MMI format seeks to test personal factors that are believed to make up good physicians. At the Medical School Admissions Panel last semester, a representative from Stanford Medical School explained that they seek to identify qualities such as verbal skills and empathy, both of which are important for patient interactions.
The evidence seems to support the MMI format. According to the New York Times, scores on MMIs have been highly correlated with scores on medical licensing exams in Canada, as they assess communication skills and decision-making as well.
However, there are some concerns that the MMI format gives an advantage to students who are naturally outgoing. A study published in Academic Medicine found that extroversion was the only personality trait associated with higher MMI performances, although both agreeableness and extroversion were associated with acceptance offers. While Stanford maintains that they do not score down candidates for shyness, as they want to see thoughtful responses, some medical professionals worry that extroverts will come to dominate the medical profession as a result.
Regardless of the concerns about MMI formatting, the truth still stands that applicants may have to undergo one or more interviews in this new format. While the actual questions used in MMIs are confidential, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to prepare for the interviews themselves. The first thing to consider is that, despite the change in format, this is still an interview for medical school. Candidates will still need to present themselves in the proper manner – dress nicely, avoid swearing, turn off the phone, and treat everyone with respect.
One can also prepare for the types of scenarios presented in an MMI by doing mock-interviews with a counselor or with friends and family. Even if they’re not sure how to fully recreate the mini interview setting, practicing the ability to think critically about topics and speak clearly and efficiently on the subject will improve one’s chances of succeeding in the actual interview.
Lastly, an admissions officer from Stanford recommends that students focus on analyzing the topic presented to them, rather than trying to find the “right” answer. Since many of these ethical questions are up for debate, the admissions officers aren’t trying to weed you out based on whether or not you support a certain practice. Instead, they want to see the kind of critical thinking that goes into your opinion.
So on the day of the interview, don’t stress. Just take a deep breath, stay calm, and focus on your prompt.
After all, if this one doesn’t go well, at least you’ve got 9 more to go.