Everyone talks about doctors having good bedside manners. But few medical schools put their money where their mouth is and consider an applicant’s interpersonal skills. You often hear that medical school applicants worry about their grades and MCAT scores, yet very rarely do you hear about applicants losing sleep over their ability to empathize with future patients.
This past week the New York Times wrote (“New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test”) about how all this is changing. Medical schools are increasingly assessing personalities alongside scores, using a form of interviewing called the “multiple mini interview” (MMI) method.
Virginia Tech Carilion, the newest medical school in America, recently implemented the MMI method, which is basically speed dating. Applicants have nine short interviews in which they are tested on their communication and social skills, as well as their ability to think on their feet. Before each mini-interview a bell sounds and the interviewee reads a sheet of paper explaining an ethical conundrum taped on the door of the room. They will then have two minutes to think about the issue, after which they will enter the room and have eight minutes to discuss the situation with the interviewer. Ding! Then on to the next round.
The MMI helps to assess which applicants will jump to the wrong conclusions, neglect to listen, or show a tendency to be overly opinionated. Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech, explains, “We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important.”
Stanford University has also recently has implemented the MMI method (“New Approach to Screening Prospective Medical Students”). Gabriel Garcia, MD, associate dean of admissions, explains: “What we want to measure are the more personal traits that aren’t so easy to measure: compassion, ethics, critical thinking, interpersonal skills.”
Truth be told, the MMI is not that new for some schools. As of five years ago, the majority of Canada’s medical schools, and 15 American medical schools were already using the MMI. Future medical school applicants would be wise to familiarize themselves with this new method and think about whether they are interested in applying to medical schools that are focusing more on interpersonal skills than scores. Or maybe just sign up for more speed dating.
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