I want to address the topic of multiple mini interviews, since they are rapidly becoming popular among PA admissions committees.
If you are new to the interview process, you may be wondering what a multiple mini interview (MMI) is.
Essentially MMI is an interview technique where the interviewer (in this case the PA school) has their candidates participate in a series of short interviews with several different interviewers as opposed to a traditional single long interview. This technique is based around a theory that interviewers generally learn everything there is to know about a candidate in the first ten minutes of an interview. The idea is that it is better to get several ten minute perspectives rather than just one thirty minute perspective.
How prevalent are MMIs in the PA school world?
Let me just say that out of the three schools I interviewed with, two of them conducted MMIs. So if you were wondering if this is something you need to worry about: yes, you need to worry about it.
To give you a better understanding of what an MMI is, let me share my own experiences with the two schools mentioned above.
The first school I interviewed with had a large group of fifty applicants interviewing that day. We were broken up into five groups and each given a different schedule. My group was scheduled to have interviews first (thank God!). For the interview, they directed us into a hallway where each of us was made to sit in a chair outside of a door and wait until we were told to enter. It was understood that there would be two ten minute sessions. The first would be an interview with one of the members of the faculty. The second session was to be some kind of roll-playing scenario with a standardized patient.
We were given the cue to enter our rooms and I stood up and knocked on the door. Inside was one of the faculty members, a very nice middle-aged woman in a suit with a chair in front of her. She smiled and I sat down. After quick introductions, she said “well we don’t have much time so why don’t you tell me why you decided to become a PA.” Having rehearsed this question I gave a brief, concise answer (see Why Do You Want to Become a PA). Then she asked me, “Tell me about a patient interaction you had that had a significant impact on your life”. This is when I panicked a little. I had a few examples in mind, but had no idea which one would best answer the question. I then launched into a somewhat lengthy story about a patient I grew fond of in a nursing home and how I felt sorry for him because his Alzheimer’s wasn’t advanced, yet the healthcare workers there still treated him like a child and took his autonomy away.
My answer was fine. It wasn’t my best answer, but it was fine. The issue was that my story took up most of the ten minutes. I realized this as soon as I finished.
She then said, “Well seeing as how we are almost out of time, what questions do you have for me?” This is where I saved myself. Rather than asking dry yes-or-no questions about the program, I asked her what field she worked in as a PA. That got us into a discussion of pediatrics, a topic that clearly excited her.
Then I told her I was a big foodie and asked her what some of her favorite restaurants were in the city. I recommended some of my favorites. As a result, the last minute or two of our interview was spent laughing and talking about food and wine. When the preceptor knocked on the door to call time, he essentially had to open the door and kick me out because she and I could not stop talking.
They sat us down again in chairs at different rooms and again told us to enter. This time it was the standardized patient encounter. My instructions were to help a patient fill out a consent to treatment form. Inside I found a man hunched over in a chair with a hat pulled over his eyes. He was quiet and clearly was not feeling well. I sat down and talked him through the process of filling out his name and address. The character was homeless, so there were certain parts of the form that could not be filled in. He did not have insurance and had no emergency contacts. I think the challenge of this interaction was figuring out if I was supposed to do something more to get answers to these questions (since our form was looking pretty blank) or not. I chose not to press him for answers and instead just reassured him that I was there to help and demonstrated empathy. The interaction was fairly comfortable and simple.
The final part of the interview involved a “group project”. I was put in a room with three other students and we were given an ethical problem to discuss. A professor observed us from another room. Of course everyone competed a little bit in the beginning to take charge. I let someone else fill that roll and just offered as much insight as I could. At the end of the discussion, the professor came back into the room and one of us had to volunteer to present our points of view to him. I volunteered for this. One thing I thought I did well was I made sure to mention and give credit to each of my team members as I shared what was discussed between us. I complemented them on their input and demonstrated that their perspectives were valued in the discussion.
The other school that conducted MMIs did not have roll playing or a group project. It was a series of three ten minute face-to-face interviews with faculty members.
The most important thing to remember when participating in MMIs is to relax. Many students allow the time constraints to make them nervous and lose focus during the interviews. Just remember to keep your answers short. Also remember what the purpose of the interview is: to get to know your personality (not to illicit information). In other words, the content of your answers is less important than your ability to be personable.
If there is one piece of advice I could give, it is this: do something to break the mold of the interview and talk about something that shows your personality.
The best chance to do this always comes at the end of the interview, when they ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” Too many students feel pressured to ask specific questions about the program. I on the other hand ask:
“What made you want to teach?”
“Do you enjoy living in (insert city)?”
“I am in town for another night, any suggestions on where I should go eat?”
“Do you ever go to the football games?” (if the school has a football team)
“What is your favorite movie?”
“Where did you grow up?”
“What hobbies do you have outside of teaching?”
These are all great questions to open the interviewer up and make the end of the interview conversational. And it will demonstrate that you are a friendly, approachable person. Somebody who will be good with patients. And in a short ten minute interview, it is a great way to make yourself memorable.
I will wrap up by saying that I am not a fan of the MMI. While it may be true that interviewers can learn a great deal about you in ten minutes, I will say that it is difficult, as a candidate, to learn about the school. Schools that conduct MMIs seem to make an assumption that all of the students interviewing there are sold on their desire to attend the program. Whether or not MMI is an effective interview style, in my opinion, it is a poor recruiting technique. In both of my experiences with MMIs, I walked away from my interview feeling like I didn’t have a good sense of the faculty or the program. It was a bit like speed dating. A lot of quantity, but not much quality.