How should you effectively deal with collaboration/group/team work multiple mini interview (MMI) stations?
During my third multi-mini interview (MMI) - the one that finally got me into medical school - I found myself in a debate station with one of the fellow interviewees. He started to politely present his argument to me while two evaluators observed. He presented a weak argument but didn’t actually stop talking. There was no natural break around the three-minute mark for me to start presenting my arguments and I knew we only had a total of eight minutes, including giving each other feedback.
So I interrupted at the most natural break I could find. I started with, “I’d like to present a different perspective…” and I started on a point that directly corresponded to what he was saying at that moment. He allowed me to speak for a few minutes and then the scenario ended. The real work of this scenario is actually giving feedback to the other candidate using the “Mac Sandwich” which is a topic for another post.
But this candidate started his feedback to me like this, “You interrupted me!” I was quite surprised that he was giving feedback in such an accusatory, unpolished way. Instead of debating whether or not I had interrupted him - I obviously had interrupted him because he was just going to keep talking and I didn’t want to come off as too passive to lead in a medical school interview - I simply apologized. Not a fake ‘sorry you feel that way’ apology. I gave him a bona-fide apology. I said, “I am sorry for interrupting” and then promptly started offering constructive feedback.
My feeling from the evaluators was that they held their breath when the other candidate pointed his finger at me and accused me of interrupting. They thought this might blow up. But I just diffused the tension, validated his anger at being interrupted and moved on. I didn’t give him the benefit of a debate where he is the innocent victim and I am the agitator. Not a good look for medical schools.
When will you encounter the illustrious group interview in medical school?
The group interview is a treacherous animal you will encounter in the MMI. There are also some universities in the United States that have formal group sessions where candidates discuss, debate, present and problem-solve under observation. If you have an MMI, prepare yourself to work with other candidates for at at least one station. If you are not sure if you will have a group session, look at the website and listen to the admission presentations. The information you need is in there, they will not surprise you with this format.
How should I behave during a group multiple mini interview station?
Behave like you’re on a team with the other candidates. You’re all in this together.
1. Inquire, don’t accuse:
When someone is making a statement to which you disagree, or solving the group problem in a way that doesn’t work well, instead of launching into an accusation about their behavior - which will only make you look childish - start with inquiry.
- “That’s an interesting position, can you share with me your reasoning so I can better understand your perspective?”
- “I hadn’t thought of it like that before, I see where you’re coming from. But I’d like to offer a different point of view…”
2. Don’t get wrapped up in the hive mind:
If you’re on a problem solving task, and you really believe that the group’s direction is going astray, take a second and voice your opinion, “I realize we are moving in this direction, but I would like us to step back and just reconsider our assumptions” and then actually run down the assumptions made about the problem before the group leapt into action. Doctors have to do this with each other all the time so it will come off well.
3. Don’t avoid saying things because you’re afraid of looking bullish:
While this is most often a gendered concern, women don’t want to come off as too passive but they tend to be seen as aggressive while saying something assertive for which a man would be called “a leader.” Men don’t want to be seen as talking over women. It’s complicated. But if you focus on creating a positive group process, when you take a position around the substance of the problem, it will be perceived as less aggressive because you’ve already established that you care about how the group runs.
4. Substance does not matter more than process:
The evaluators don’t care if your group solves the problem or answers the question at hand. They also don’t care that you have a big hug-in and everyone gets along. They care that you can engage with substantive material in a way that draws out important intellectual conflicts while also resolving them in a mature, productive manner wherein professional ethics are paramount and you demonstrate respect for your professional colleagues. They aren’t looking for the smartest or nicest person in the room, they’re looking for leaders who understand how people work.
5. Introverts, beware of the negative self-talk:
Candidates who fear public speaking, with social anxiety or agoraphobia are at a disadvantage. There is no real work around there as medicine is a profession that plays out publicly, in front of people. Extroverts are at an advantage, particularly in group settings. But they don’t have to be. You need to do the work to understand why you actually don’t like to insert yourself into debates, groups, etc. Are you afraid they are judging you? They are. That’s the point of the MMI.
But they aren’t judging your worth as a person. They’re judging a particular set of skills that are essential for the practice of medicine. If your social anxiety is rooted in a fear of judgment, that’s work you need to do with a professional so that you’re equipped for the group interview setting. If you are just naturally introverted and find you’re a listener, rather than a vocalizer, you need to choose your moments. You cannot say nothing and contribute nothing in an eight-minute session. You will not get accepted to medical school. So you need to practice interrupting. You need to choose two or three well-placed phrases so that you show up during the group setting and they consider you to be a “quality over quantity” applicant. This is a good impression to leave. If you don’t have anything to add to the group because you feel like they’ve said it all, then hone in on group process. Help others get heard, articulate big picture assumptions, compliment people on their hard work. There is always something for you to say. I do not believe people when they say, “I just didn’t have anything to add” because this is a cop out that justifies not showing up for your teammates.
How should you interrupt someone during your interview?
As I described above in my story about my third MMI, interrupting is a necessary skill.
1. Find a natural pause:
If you don’t know what a natural pause sounds like, start listening to other people around you. On the bus, instead of listening to music through your headphones, listen to people talk. Listen to your parents talk. Identify where you think you would interject if you were in a conversation with that person. Then start practicing the natural pause in real life. It is going to feel awkward. You’re taking up more space than you’re used to and you’re privileging your voice over that of another. That’s hard stuff.
2. Start with validation:
Validate what they were just saying, even if you think what they’ve been saying is complete nonsense, as I did in my multiple mini interview. “That’s fascinating, but I want to consider a different side…” or “I appreciate your point AND I’d like to offer an extension to the argument…” or “I like where you took that, could we also…”
3. State the obvious:
You are interrupting. There is no way to pretend you are not. So say that: “I think I’d like to interrupt to suggest…” or “I am sorry to interrupt, but I think this provides a logical segue to…” That way they can’t come back to you and accuse you of interrupting. Because - newsflash - you know you did. This is real life. People get interrupted. If that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, medicine will be a bit of a surprise.
4. Don’t look back:
When you actually do the work of properly interrupting someone, don’t immediately freak out with regret such that you forget what you were going to say. Just move forward. If you do it properly, any accusations of interruption will fall on deaf ears because you did what you needed to do in the eight minutes you have to impress the evaluators.
At the end of the day, both myself and the guy I was debating got into medical school. I was suspect of his critical reasoning skills but it’s not my job to judge. He could have had just had one bad station. And remember that in your MMI: You’re allowed a bad station. It’s not the end of the world. Good luck!
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About the author:
Dr. Ashley Faye White is currently a rural medicine resident at McMaster University and a senior admissions expert at BeMo. She has an M.D. from McMaster medical school and has navigated her way into med school as a non-traditional applicant.
To your success,