The University of Auckland uses a “multiple-mini interview” (MMI) as part of it’s ranking algorithm for medical school entry. This interview is critically important and is one of the deciders of successful candidates. In some ways, it is more of a “decider” than even grades.
This article will dive into the most must-know aspects of the interview, as well as our biggest tips.
Perspectives and myths
There are hoards of misinformation about the interview out there on forums, blogs, company websites and from your friendly neighbourhood medical student. While the intention is good, much of this advice can detriment a student’s preparation or success.
Who am I to give advice?
I’ve coached and assisted thousands of students into medical school and the course I created is often stated by students to be the most helpful interview preparation course around.
I’ll talk about why paid courses may or may not be helpful later in this article, but first let’s start off with some rapid-fire myth-busting.
|You can’t prepare for the interview.||Interviews require efficient and concise communication using a set of skills that most students are unlikely to have ever needed to develop.|
|Preparing for an interview makes you less genuine or shows that you aren’t suited to enter medical school.||Preparation makes you more genuine, not less. Interviews evaluate your personality and character attributes (among a few other things). While changing your personality is unlikely, giving an opportunity to critically examine your attributes and opinions, and being able to communicate this in an aligned and concise way is what preparation helps with.|
|Practicing lots of interview questions makes you better at the interview.||This is incredibly untrue. While you may become more comfortable, without a certain set of guidelines on what makes a good answer, you are likely to get very diminishing returns after a certain number of practice questions.|
|The interview is an additional thing I need to worry about, so this is a bad thing. It would be better not to have an interview.||Interviews are an opportunity to gain additional points and distinguish yourself if your grades or UCAT weren’t at the top. Having an interview also reduces the weighting of the UCAT, which is arguably more difficult to prepare for and do well in.|
|The most important thing to do well in the interview is to be yourself.||While being genuine is absolutely key, the most important thing is to communicate this genuine self efficiently. The MMI only gives you six minutes to make an impression, which can easily be taken up by inefficient answering that does not communicate the core of what you think.|
At the time of writing this, the MMI is structured as follows:
- 8 stations covering a different theme/topic per station
- 8 minutes per station (divided into 2 minutes of reading/thinking/walking time and 6 minutes of speaking and discussion)
- The role play station has 2 minutes of reading time but only 4 minutes of role-playing, followed by 2 minutes of debriefing and reset.
- Each station tests you on 3 attributes (e.g. communication, conflict resolution, maturity, empathy, career insight, etc.), rated out of 10 each. Therefore each station is out of 30 points, with the entire interview out of 240 total points.
These details are always subject to change, so get official information always from the University here.
The exact character attributes tested are subject to change and do not align exactly with the list below, however, these are the guiding principles upon which the attributes are based. Even if they were to change, they would still test you on these fundamental aspects. Therefore, focusing your preparation attention on these is safer than focusing on the exact character attributes you are marked on.
- Social responsibility
- A strong commitment to the study and practice
- Humanistic qualities such as empathy and sensitivity
- Excellent communication skills
- Fluency in English
- A strong academic background in sciences
- An enthusiasm for life-long learning
- A wide knowledge of New Zealand’s multifaceted communities and cultures
- Awareness of prevailing health needs and community issues
- Awareness of the nature of the health profession
- Certainty about career choice
- Enthusiasm for people and their well-being
- All round abilities and interests across a wide variety of activities
Preparing too late
Not everyone needs to do a course or spend dozens of hours preparing. However, I often encounter students who have listened to one of the myths above and leave preparation to the last minute. At this time, it can become apparent that this student needs to do a lot of preparation. Usually the shortcomings are around:
- Immature or poorly thought-through opinions and ideas
- Awkward or obtuse answering structures
- Poor identification of the main point of the question
- Poor career insight and lack of good career decision making.
These issues take time to solve and by no means indicate a bad potential doctor (depending on how poorly thought-through those opinions are). For the last-minute student, there isn’t enough time to improve, or it becomes very stressful.
How to avoid this
Prepare from around August. This is why our early stream courses start then. For students who prepare early on, if there are no problems, they can relax and pick it back up before their interviews, but at least they give themselves the opportunity for more extensive preparation, should they need it.
Focusing on the wrong things
At the beginning of all of my MMI workshops, I will ask the students what their major concerns are. The most consistently common answers I get are:
- Not being concise
- Not being unique
- Not saying what the interviewer is looking for
These are all legitimate issues, but not issues that should be focused on until later in the preparation process.
How to avoid this
A good interview occurs when the following conditions are all met:
- Mature, introspective candidate who has done their ground-work
- Efficient and concise communication technique
- Calm and confident demeanor
It’s very difficult to do well in an interview if even one of these three conditions is lacking. This is also the exact priorities for preparation, in order. Before knowing how to be concise or unique, it’s important to build up yourself as an individual who genuinely has been rigorously thoughtful and introspective.
Despite common misconception, uniqueness doesn’t always come from unique experiences.
In fact, many unique experiences can be communicated quite blandly. Uniqueness comes from a deep and personal insight into the value, meaning, and impact of experiences. Uniqueness is from a deep and genuine perspective. These are truly rare to see in many undergraduates, which is why graduates tend to perform much better in the interview.
Lack of career insight
It’s hard to do this topic justice, but most students have a career decision that was based on a combination of:
- Peer or family pressure/expectation
- Being good at science
- A personal health-related experience
- Confirmation bias
Very few students have open-mindedly considered other career options as seriously as they have considered medicine. Many students will superficially look at other options, but it is either to find reasons why medicine is better (see confirmation bias), or at a very shallow level.
For obvious reasons, this type of decision making leads to many problems.
It’s potentially for this reason that 30 to 40% of all doctors would rather do something else or not recommend it to their children.
For an interviewer who has had decades to think about their career choices, it is very clear when someone has not thought about their career decisions in much depth.
It’s like when someone is pretending to know a lot about a hobby you have engaged in for years. You can usually tell within just a few sentences how deep their knowledge is.
How to avoid this
Step 1: Start by evaluating your career decisions more deeply. This video I created is a good guide for career decision making and constantly receives a lot of positive feedback from doctors and medical students.
Step 2: We also have a podcast that aims to take a realistic look at the medical profession and what it means. I get questions almost daily from students asking about what medicine is like. Almost all of these questions are answered numerous times through our podcast episodes.
Step 3: Join our Facebook group, Future Doctors of NZ, filled with hundreds of doctors, medical students, and high school students. It’s a platform we moderate and facilitate for the purpose of increasing communication ease and transparency, so ask any questions on there. We’re very friendly!
It’s common for students to be so averse to cringing at their own interview skills and answers that they only answer questions that they already feel somewhat confident in. I don’t think I need to explain why this is a bad idea.
How to avoid this
Record yourself and practice areas of weakness more than areas of strength! Recording yourself is very helpful and we even go into a systematic technique on how to get the most learning from self-recording in our MMI course.
Unfortunately, like most of the advice I give, students never listen, relegating recording as a highly beneficial, yet majorly underutilised practice tip.
Other preparation tips
As I’ve mentioned, taking a paid course is not necessary. Our course helps to streamline, guide and increase the efficiency and safety of your preparation, as well as providing you with practice material and resources. But with some elbow grease, you can get a lot out of free resources, both provided by us on Facebook, or by other people in the scene.
If you choose to go down the free route, be wary of checking your sources and take it with a grain of salt. I have been consulted on numerous occasions by students, parents, and other organisations to check the validity of interview preparation information and have been appalled at how bad some of the advice given by some second and third-year medical students are.
As a rule of thumb, if the person giving advice:
- Has nothing to lose
- Critiques on gestures and posture or eye contact a lot
- Has no accountability
- Is not experienced at helping others, i.e. a sample size for that advice of less than 50
The advice is high risk. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but some “intuitive common sense” advice can actually lead students astray. Every year we have students entering our late stream preparation workshops with a host of bad habits from the advice they have picked up.
Why are gestures-related advice high risk? Because these are rarely significant problems and are easy to critique by people without a deeper and more meaningful understanding of interview success. Unless the gestures and eye contact are horribly distracting, it is unlikely to be a problem and only detracts from where the main focus should be.
The safest type of advice is around answering structures. There are many different ways to structure an answer and as long as it works for you, feel comfortable, and makes your communication more concise and efficient without taking away from genuineness, it’s probably good enough.
If it sounds like a headache, I tend to agree.
This is why we have an interview course in the first place. If the price is a barrier, apply for our scholarships. As a social enterprise, we have a sliding scale of pricing so that it is always affordable for you, and a significant portion of our profits are dedicated to just increasing social impact. Every year, hundreds of students receive $100,000’s of dollars worth of free or subsidised services.
We actively encourage students to apply for scholarships because you honestly have a pretty good chance of getting one!