Medical Schools Measure Social Skills With Multiple Mini Interviews

July 11, 2011

Group of young doctorsMedical schools are relying less on traditional grades, MCAT scores and impersonal interviews to evaluate applicants. Instead, some are looking for students who have the people skills necessary to effectively navigate the health care system, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

As reported by The New York Times, one such school is Virginia Tech Carilion, the nation's newest medical school. At Virginia Tech Carilion, applicants go through nine short interviews, a process called the multiple mini interview, or M.M.I. It is similar to speed-dating in that applicants meet with interviewers for eight minutes each, respond to an ethical situation that often comes up in hospitals and then move on to another interviewer and another scenario when a timer goes off.

The idea is to get a better view of an applicant's social and communication skills.

"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," said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion.

The M.M.I. approach was developed by Dr. Harold Reiter, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and is based on research that proved that multiple mini interviews were highly predictive of scores on licensing exams that doctors took three to five years later. Additionally, two trends have made administrators re-rank people skills among the top priorities: a growing number of preventable deaths caused by socially inept doctors who could not effectively communicate with patients, nurses and other doctors and the fact that medicine is tending towards a team effort.

"When I entered medical school, it was all about being an individual expert," explained Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges. "Now it's all about applying that expertise to a team-based patient care."

The New York Times reported that the process is not completely new to universities--13 schools in Canada have switched to M.M.I. as well as at least eight U.S. medical schools, including Stanford, UCLA and the University of Cincinnati. According to Scope, a medical blog by a team of writers at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford implemented the M.M.I. process in November 2010 as a way to measure applicants' compassion, ethics, critical thinking and interpersonal skills.

According to The New York Times, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine emphasizes social skills more than almost any other university and so far students seem to like the new process.

"I thought the whole process was more geared toward problem-solving than to me talking about who I was as an applicant and I liked that," said medical school applicant Andrew Snyder.

Compiled by Staff


"Medical Schools Seek Socially Adept Students,", July 11, 2011

"New approach to screening prospective medical students,", January 11, 2011, Tracie White

"New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test,", July 10, 2011, Gardiner Harris

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