How the Medical School Interview Has Changed — And How It Might Affect You

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Interviews are becoming more like speed-dating. Is that a good thing?

If you look online for information about medical school interviews, you’ll find a lot of advice about how to answer questions like “What made you want to be a doctor?” and “What’s your greatest weakness?” But medical schools nationwide have been changing up their interview process to better evaluate applicants’ social skills. At these schools, candidates undergo as many as 26 (!!) two-minute interviews with 26 different interviewers. Yes, that does sound a lot like speed-dating — and no, it doesn’t sound very fun.

This process, called the Multiple Mini Interview, was developed in Canada, after multiple studies showed that the traditional interview method — you know, where the applicant sits down with one person and has an hour-long conversation — wasn’t very good at predicting success. The idea behind the MMI is that candidates are evaluated by many people, not just one, which lessens the chance of bias and gives a larger sample size. And since studies have shown that most interviewers base their evaluation on the first few minutes of interaction, the shorter time period shouldn’t matter much.

According to the New York Times, “a growing catalog of studies that pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.” The MMI emphasizes social skills; it’s also better at evaluating whether candidates would function well or poorly as team members, regardless of their stellar academics.

Some schools are changing up their questions as well:  rather than asking the traditional vague, open-ended questions, they’re favoring practical, situation-based ones. (For example, What would you do if a patient with a terminal illness refused treatment and told you that instead he was going to Mexico for an alternative treatment?)

The MMI is currently used by the majority of med schools in Canada and Australia, and increasing numbers of U.S. schools are adopting it. Although it hasn’t spread too far outside the medical field, it’s becoming increasingly popular in science-based disciplines — so there’s certainly a chance that you might run into it sometime soon. The problem-solving aspect is reminiscent of the famous puzzle questions that tech companies (Google et al.) use in their interviews… so we can probably assume that this style of interview will spread to more industries soon enough.

So, what do you think — is the idea of 26 short interviewers less or more daunting than one longer interview with one person? Can interviewers really get a sense of a person in 120 seconds?

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