What are medical interviews?
The medical interviews are an increasingly important part of the selection process for medical places. They are often weighted equally with a student’s ATAR and UCAT results, and in some cases, are considered a stronger indicator of the personal qualities, communication skills and critical thinking required in the medical profession.
A study conducted by an Australian medical school asked members of the community what they wanted to see in their ideal doctor.
Interestingly, the vast majority of responses painted the picture of a doctor who is caring, empathetic and listens to their concerns – not just a highly intelligent person.
Given the growing trend of added complexity in medical school admissions, it is not uncommon to see academically strong students being unable to secure a place in medical school due to poor interview performance.
The format of the medical interviews depend on each university, but generally fall under either the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) or traditional panel formats. Scroll to the bottom for a summary.
MMI (Multiple Mini Interview)
The MMI format involves a series of consecutive ‘stations’. Each station tends to focus on several themes, and the candidate may have between 6-8 minutes to answer questions, in addition to 2 minutes of reading time. The candidate then moves to the next station, completing the remainder of the circuit in this fashion. Some stations may require students to speak about a certain topic, while others may place them in hypothetical scenarios to see how they behave. Common themes include rural and indigenous health, and ethical decision making. Candidates are usually graded by one examiner per station and may occasionally deal with a simulated patient or other actor, depending on the university.
The MMI closely reflects the format of the clinical skills examinations used in medical schools and Australian specialty colleges, known as OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations). The MMI is a high-pressured, time-critical environment that in many ways simulates the pressured situations a medical professional will encounter. MMIs call for a candidate to hone their critical thinking and time management skills, as well as their ability to cope under pressure and be resilient.
An additional challenge of the MMI format is the mental contest of moving on from one station to focussing on another despite how they feel they are performing. It can be exhausting to continually build rapport with new examiners. This highly beneficial life skill can be difficult to develop! On the other hand, if a candidate feels they performed poorly in one station, they can start completely fresh in the next one. This can be extremely rewarding for many candidates!
The number of stations and allocated time per station may vary between universities, however, the skills described above are universal to all of them.
The traditional panel interview format involves a more relaxed environment without the same time pressure of MMIs. Candidates usually speak to the same set of examiners for the duration of the interview, although in some cases it may be split between 2 separate panels. The size of the panel may vary between universities, but typically involves 3 interviewers who come from specific backgrounds. For example, there may be a medical professional, an academic, and a member of the community.
The panel format often involves ‘getting to know you’ questions. Questions tend to be asked one by one by each examiner, and there is usually no allocated reading time. That being said, interviewers commonly allow candidates a few moments to gather their thoughts and think about the scenario before speaking. However, there is a fine balance between rushing into a station and taking up an awkward amount of time in silence. The themes of questions in a panel interview can be similar to the ones asked in the MMI format, however the particular way they are asked can vary between the styles.
The challenge with the panel format is that it can be difficult to recover from making a bad impression, although it is definitely possible! However, it is important to keep in mind that interviewers understand the stressful nature of a high-stakes medical interview and will therefore try to keep an open mind. One advantage of the panel format is that once a good impression is made, it can keep a candidate riding on that confidence. There is also more time for a candidate to feel comfortable with the panel, which can help in building rapport. This can really benefit some candidates!
- Consists of multiple interview stations
- Each station lasts 6-8 minutes +/- reading time
- Common themes include rural and indigenous health, and ethical decision making
- Closely resembles the examinations undergone by medical students and doctors
- Usually only one panel of interviewers
- No reading time
- No time pressure
- Common themes include the student’s past experiences and motivations for studying medicine
- More closely resembles a job interview
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