I thought I knew what to expect from MMI as soon as I knew the name- Multiple Mini Interviews. It sounds straightforward, station x assesses your communication, station y gives you an ethical dilemma: and it’s not like that summation is wrong– it just fails to explore some crucial details. Like almost everyone else, I was about the most stressed I’d ever been going into my application cycle, and nothing seemed worse than the interviews. I learned all the basics, about what kind of things would be assessed, how long each station would be, and what skills I could try and prepare; I even went to some mock MMI interviews to give me the experience. In the end, I didn’t learn nearly as much from these I did from the real thing, where the stakes were real and my focus was absolutely on performing as well as I could: here are some of the lessons I learned when I was in my actual MMI interviews and when the pressure was on.

I sat down for my first MMI station and read the brief: “This station will assess your communication skills” (makes sense) “you will have eight minutes at this station” (would prefer longer but fine) “you will be explaining to somebody from an alien planet how an aeroplane works” (excuse me what?). Then my thirty seconds preparation time ended and I was plunged into the station. I rapidly found out that the crux of the problem was not, in fact, that I had no idea how the aerodynamics of planes work at all, the problem was that almost all the language I used was based on assumptions we make every day which- true enough- the alien to which I was speaking would not. And I realised that I had completely blinded myself and was totally missing the point of the station: if somebody had gone in with no more knowledge about planes than that they can fly, but had successfully explained the concept to their alien in a way which would make sense, then they’d have passed in flying colours. It wasn’t an aeroplane mechanics station, it was a communication station, and I’d missed the point. So my first lesson from MMIs was always remember what you’re being assessed on.

And if that station had been a curveball, the next one was designed to flip the whole field on its head. I was to act as a social services representative interviewing a mother about some issues her son had at school- he’d been eating badly, turning up in unwashed clothes, all the warning signs that might suggest an extremely messy child welfare situation. So where I’d been expecting my ethics scenarios to be along the lines of “we have one liver and three patients who need it, who do we give it to?”, it was instead an extremely thorny intervention mess, wrapped in more communication skills, wrapped in trying to process the fact that I as a 17 year old male still in school was currently trying to convince a mother that a large portion of what she was doing was extremely harmful to her child (all whilst minimising distress to the mother wherever possible). The scenario probably would have made me slightly uncomfortable anyway at that stage, but I was also aware that I was on the way to bombing my first two stations, and I could almost see my chances of getting into my favourite med school slipping away. And maybe that was obvious to the interviewer, or maybe I was just making no progress, but suddenly the mother started to agree with me on some things, concern for her child took over, and suddenly I felt like I was getting somewhere. This gave me my second lesson from MMIs- the interviewers want you to succeed, and they will try and give you as much opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities as possible- the bit you have to take responsibility for is riding the wave and making the most of the chances they give you.

After that rollercoaster, I arrived at what everyone assumes is the most predictable station- “why do you want to study medicine?” I was ready, with my solid, logical reasons that I wanted to do medicine. I was going to demonstrate that unlike everyone else applying, I somehow knew exactly what I was getting into, and I was ready to work unbelievably hard to get through it. I said what I meant, and I explained it well, and it made sense. Except the presupposition that even through all the research I’d done I could begin to know what it was really going to be like when I got there, was ridiculous and I knew it, and the interviewers knew it. It’s extremely helpful to be able to demonstrate insight into medicine, and to show you have logically sound reasons for wanting to study it- but it takes a lot more than objective reasoning to get through the huge amount of work you are signing up for- so you have to also demonstrate a huge amount of passion, drive and motivation. I changed tack: I stopped talking as if I was making a cold simple decision, and started acknowledging that ultimately studying medicine was an absolute dream of mine and had been for a long time- and it was obvious that I meant what I said. So in what I thought would be the simplest of all the stations, I learned one of the more universal lessons I found in MMIs- sometimes it’s more important that you really mean what you say, rather than just saying what you mean

One of the big worries I had about MMIs was the length of the stations. 6-10 minutes somehow seems both not long enough to articulate an answer to some questions and then far too long to be able to speak about others. The reality I found, however, was that I completely lost track of the time in almost every station, and mostly found that I neither felt I needed to say more nor was I running out of things to say. Ultimately, the interviewers are seeing hundreds of students in every interview block; they’re not going to remember the sum total of what you say no matter how insightful it is- it’s more important that what you do say is of high quality and is delivered well. In fact, it’s perhaps better to finish a station in such a way that it is clear you have more to say than it is to finish it having just stated your absolute final piece of knowledge on the subject. The lesson here was that I had worried about a factor which was essentially out of my control, and when I’d focussed on those factors which I could control: being polite, shaking my interviewers’ hands, speaking as well as I could- the more practical concerns had taken care of themselves.

Above all, I think the most important message for MMIs is not to panic- all the times I made mistakes it was because I was being distracted by something which I was not prepared for, or because I was trying too hard to be perfect and not allowing myself to relax into a natural style of conducting myself. There are definitely many things you can do to prepare for MMIs- learn your ethical pillars, do some communication practise with friends, look at some examples of the problem solving puzzles you’ll be given- and you should absolutely do these. That said, there’s nothing to be gained on interview day by worrying about what more you could have done- just let yourself speak for yourself and do the best you can. Mahatma Gandhi said something along these lines, but I can’t find the quote so I’ll have to paraphrase: if something is in your control, there’s no need to worry because you can influence the outcome. If something is out of your control, there is nothing to be gained from worrying thus it is pointless then also. Now worry can be a good motivator, but when it gets to interview day, given all the things MMI can throw at you, there really is no use in stressing, and the best you can do is enjoy it. And that’s something almost everyone who’s sat an MMI interview says, to the disbelief of almost everyone who hasn’t done one: once you get over the nerves or the shaky starts, they’re actually quite fun.

By Finlay Waddell