The interview is an essential component of the medical school admission process. It enables the admissions committee to evaluate applicants based on qualities that cannot be conveyed through a paper application. An analysis by the AAMC reports that medical schools typically use the interview to assess applicants’ non-academic characteristics and skills, including compassion and empathy, personal maturity, and professionalism.
The Traditional Interview (And Its Drawbacks)
The majority of US medical schools continue to utilize a traditional interview format: students are interviewed one-on-one by a member of the school’s faculty, admissions committee, or student body. These traditional interviews can vary considerably in terms of length, structure, content, and scoring. Some schools conduct just one interview, while others conduct two or three. At certain schools, the interviewer has limited to no information about the applicant, while others allow the interviewer to have complete access to the interviewee’s application.
The reliability and validity of the traditional medical school interview has long been in question. The results of a 1996 study demonstrated significant variability among interviewers’ ratings and only moderate validity in interviewers’ ratings of an applicant’s true level of performance. The study also discussed the potential for error due to the fact that certain interviewers are more strict or lenient than others.
The Multiple Mini-Interview (And Its Advantages)
Recently, several US schools have transitioned to a novel type of interview: the Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI), which originated in Canada and Australia. The rationale behind the MMI is twofold: to address some of the weaknesses of the traditional interview format and to better assess an applicant’s potential for success in medical school and beyond.
An MMI typically consists of 6 to 10 stations through which applicants rotate, each with a different scenario, question, or topic. At each station, the student has a few minutes to read the question and prepare, and then spends 6-8 minutes discussing the issue with the interviewer and answering questions.
The stations comprising the MMI are intended to assess various applicant characteristics including communication and problem solving skills, as well as ethics and judgment. There are many different types of MMI scenarios, which may involve a patient actor, a writing task, an ethical dilemma, a healthcare policy question, or a standard interview question. Some schools that have recently switched to using MMI are Albany Medical College, Duke School of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, and SUNY Upstate.
During an MMI, the same interviewer is assigned to evaluate all prospective students at a particular individual station, which reduces some of the inherent variability in traditional interviews. As all interviewees are asked to respond to the same set of prompts, the overall process achieves a greater level of standardization.
A post by the AAMC cites the following reason for more schools moving toward an MMI format: “Because students interact with multiple interviewers in multiple assessments over the course of the MMI, opinions of a single interviewer are not over-emphasized.” According to NYU Admissions MMI FAQ, the overall process is fairer considering “applicants who do poorly on one station have the opportunity to perform better on another.”
Preparing for an MMI
With such a wide array of potential topics, applicants often find MMI preparation quite daunting. As a student does not know the questions in advance, an AAMC post states “the best way to prepare is to practice expressing yourself articulately and logically in a timed environment.” It may also be valuable to familiarize yourself with some broad, yet relevant topics such as bioethics, current events, and healthcare policy issues.
Both the MMI and traditional interview enable medical schools to assess certain applicant qualities. Yet the MMI differs from the traditional interview in significant ways and in doing so, aims to address several concerns surrounding the traditional interview structure. By interacting with several different interviewers over a variety of scenarios, applicants are judged more holistically and consistently in MMI interviews.
If you have any questions about the medical school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help!