My wife took a friend to a doctors appointment yesterday. Although the medical care seemed competent, the office staff was impersonal, and the doctor stared at the chart the whole time, never making eye contact with the patient. Obviously time to change doctors right?
But it’s more significant than just bad service.
Studies show that a significant number of preventable deaths are caused by poor communication between doctors, patients and nurses. As a result, medical schools are learning what the business world already knows: social skills matter as much, if not more, than technical skills. An increasing number of med schools are now using social skills as a factor in student selection. And as a recruiter, I think the process they are using is fascinating.
The New York Times, in an article by Gardiner Harris, reports that at Virginia Tech Carilion, the nation’s newest medical school, administrators decided against relying solely on grades, test scores and hour-long interviews to determine who got admitted. “Instead, the school invited candidates to the admissions equivalent of speed-dating: nine brief interviews that forced candidates to show they had excellent communication and social skills.
The new process is called the multiple mini interview, or M.M.I., and its use is spreading. At least eight medical schools in the United States — including those at Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Cincinnati — and 13 in Canada are using it. Here’s how the process works:
At Virginia Tech Carilion, 26 candidates showed up on a Saturday in March and stood with their backs to the doors of 26 small rooms. When a bell sounded, the applicants spun around and read a sheet of paper taped to the door that described an ethical conundrum. Two minutes later, the bell sounded again and the applicants charged into the small rooms and found an interviewer waiting. The candidates had eight minutes to discuss that room’s situation. Then they moved to the next room, the next surprise conundrum and the next interviewer, who scored each applicant with a number and sometimes a brief note.
Virginia Tech Carilion administrators said they created questions that assessed how well candidates think on their feet and their willingness to work in teams.
The most important part of the interviews are often not candidates’ initial responses — there are no right or wrong answers — but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them, something that happens when working in teams.
A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make social skills a priority, writes Harris:
1) A growing number of studies pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.
2) Medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport. Solo medical practices are disappearing. In their place, large health systems are creating teams to provide care coordinated across disciplines. The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member.
The M.M.I. system grew out of research that found that situational interviews were more revealing of character flaws than personal interviews, and that 5 minutes was enough time to make the assessment. In fact, candidate scores on the mini interviews are highly predictive of scores on medical licensing exams three to five years later that test doctors’ decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency.
Not bad for 5 minutes.