A week in the life of … the MMI team

Each October, 159 MMS staff and volunteers enter a parallel universe for a week. Their mission: to select around 350 candidates for admission to the Doctor of Medicine (MD) program, through a caffeine-fuelled interview process that is gruelling yet rewarding for the staff who sign up.

Over the past decade, Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) have become the gold standard for entry to MD programs. The price of admission for prospective students is stellar academic performance, but by the time they come in for their MMI, that takes a back seat. Ultimately, the MMI will account for 50 per cent of their entry ranking, and their GPA and Gamsat will each account for 25 per cent.

MMI 2019 statistics
2019 MMIs in numbers

The MMI selects for other personal qualities and attributes: attitude, motivation, communication and decision-making skills, grasp of ethics, ability to interact, and quick thinking in challenging situations.

In three groups of eight, applicants run the gamut of eight interview stations, where they are asked one or two standard questions by interviewees wielding iPads, who quickly assess them.  Are they making eye contact? Are they trotting out trite answers or do they seem authentic? How do they respond when confronted with actors role-playing difficult scenarios medics face: breaking bad news, a hostile patient?

Pulling it all together this year was Victor Liu, and his team comprising Prue Steer, Catarina de Freitas and Dr Michael Dodson. In February, they started recruiting interviewers and support staff: a mix of MMS staff, fourth-year medical students, and others drawn from other faculties and Stop 1, striking a balance between medical experts and laypeople.

Together, they conducted 4304 interviews with 538 candidates in the last week of September – a rough average of 70 interviews per hour. Offshore international applicants are interviewed by Skype in preceding weeks, with domestic skype meetings held about a week after the face-to-face round.

The days are long – at least 10 hours, starting at 7am, making for as strange bonding experience. "It's a very intense week," says Prue Steer, academic programs manager. "It's really collaborative – everyone has to come together and chip in."

It's like an episode of Survivor, only no one gets kicked off the island. Also, level 2, and level 7 North, which are booked out for the duration, have no trees and no beach.

Even when faced with a student clearly panicking, the interviewers must keep a poker face. This year, some students were late because replacement buses were running on their train line. Because of the need to maintain fairness, a curveball like that has invigilators putting great effort into locating the students.

Like any captive population, be it in a nursing home, a hospital or a prison, food marks the days for the MMI squad, and caffeine is life itself.  "Everyone looks forward to the food," Prue says, adding it's a comedown adapting to regular meals afterward.

And afterwards? "We all slept a lot," Prue says.

Victor adds: "It's incredibly rewarding to be part of a process that selects outstanding young people for their entry into a profession that has such an enormous impact on society and individuals."

*       Look out for the call for volunteers for 2020 early next year.