Medical school interviews. Those three words alone are enough to invoke fear in the minds of many pre-med students.

However, three more even scarier words have recently been added to the med school applicant’s vocabulary: Multiple Mini Interviews, most commonly referred to as MMIs.

What is an MMI?

Multiple Mini Interviews are like speed dating for interviewees; rather than having one or two interviews with faculty members, you rotate from door to door, spending an average of six minutes with each interviewer. Adopted from med schools in Canada, this interview circuit is now a commonplace at many American med schools, so it's safe to assume that in your application process, you will encounter it at least once.

Here’s how it works: each interview room you approach will have a prompt posted on the door. You will have two minutes to read it (and some schools allow you to take notes) before you enter the room, where a member of the faculty, staff, or current student body will be waiting to listen to your response. After six minutes, a sound will go off, alerting you that it is time to switch. Most schools have between seven to ten interview rooms, which means the entire MMI takes about an hour and half, depending on each school’s specific time intervals.

One of the biggest challenges of the MMI is that the prompts can be on any topic, and most often they are completely unrelated to the previous or subsequent topic. Some prompts are based on hypothetical ethical conflicts (“What would you do if…”), but many also give you an opportunity to reflect on your own interpersonal skills and passions. Many of the prompts are merely ways for the interviewer to assess your critical thinking and communication skills. It’s important to keep in mind that there really may be no “right” answer to any of the prompts; rather, the “best” answer is one that demonstrates your ability to reason logically and express yourself thoughtfully. Some schools also include a rest station in the rotation, which can give you a chance to take some calming breaths and a sip of water.

Why are MMIs becoming popular?

Interviews are important; most schools use them as the only assessment of an applicant’s personal characteristics, with the idea that a more structured interview format (as opposed to a conversational style of interview) allows for a more standardized evaluation. However, research has also shown that many admissions decisions are largely influenced by individual interviewer bias. The MMI effectively controls for this bias by allowing multiple people to have interactions with the interviewee; if one interviewer just doesn’t click, his or her impression will be seen as an outlier. In fact, this bias accounted for nearly 60% of variability in interview assessments. Furthermore, studies done on student performance for those who had participated in MMIs indicated that those interviews were a reliable indicator of career success.

How do I prepare for an MMI?

For many applicants, one of the biggest obstacles is mastering anxiety. Panicking during the MMI could cause you to freeze up or, alternatively, speak way too quickly, which can come off as unprofessional. One of my own personal strategies for mastering this is keeping in mind why they’re doing these interviews. To med schools, MMIs are an opportunity to learn, with the least amount of bias, how great of a person you prove it to them! And, remember, most interviewers are not trying to trick you. One MMI interviewer told me, “This is just so we can make sure you’re not a psycho.” Be confident that if you have gotten to this point in the application process, they have already seen something in your file that attracted them; now, it is your job to win them over. And, if you can, try to have fun with it! To prepare your actual responses, check med schools' websites, which often post sample MMI prompts.

However, while there are resources available to you to prepare for specific questions, be careful! Oftentimes, prompts can be similar to (but not quite the same as) previous ones you have practiced, and you want to avoid sounding like a robot—or going astray if the prompt is similar but not identical to one you memorized. The best way to prepare is to practice controlling your rate of speech (again, most people tend to speak quickly when nervous). It also might help to research a few landmark ethical cases that you might be able to reference in your responses, such as the HeLa cell line or savior siblings.

What if I don’t have enough to say?

Most interviewees find that the six minutes goes by extremely quickly, but in some cases, you may finish speaking and there will be time left over. While some interviewers are inclined to ask followup questions, some may sit there in silence without prompting you further. If you have covered everything you think you should say, don’t force it. Often, blabbering on out of nervousness or to fill the time can lead to you say things you haven’t fully thought through. It is okay to sit there quietly (even though it may be awkward), or to thank the interviewer for his/her time and excuse yourself from the room.

You can do it.

  • Take the time to research more about the history of MMIs to expand your understanding and expectations.
  • Think about the positive qualities in yourself you want to show: you will be a compassionate, qualified student capable of making difficult decisions.
  • Before entering each room, take a deep breath, and then walk in with a smile. (This will be great practice for when you are a doctor greeting your patients!)