Grade point average and test scores are important in evaluating prospective students. But learning about their personality and ethics is also vital to finding the right fit at Western University of Health Sciences.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) has adopted a modified form of the Multiple Mini Interview, developed at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.

“As the admission committee continues to be besieged by students with very high GPAs and MCATs, we felt an ever-increasing obligation to have additional metrics with which to make our decision,” said COMP Dean Clinton Adams, DO, MPA, FACHE. “At the end of the day, we want someone that’s not only competent but also will be a caring, compassionate team player. We’re targeting, in those simulated interviews, teamwork and innate capacity for caring and compassion.”

The MMI program developed at McMaster University utilizes 10 short, objective, structured clinical examination (OSCE)-style interview stations where applicants respond to a scenario or question. The stations assess characteristics such as reliability, responsibility, collegiality, self-directedness, compassion and teamwork.

COMP and COMP-Northwest have added MMI to the admission process for students entering in 2012, along with evaluating transcripts, test scores, a traditional interview and other factors. MMI benefits both the prospective student and the university, said Susan Hanson, COMP Executive Director of Admissions.

“We know their GPA and volunteer work. We read letters of recommendation,” she said. “We want to learn about their communication skills and empathy. We want to know how a candidate would behave in those types of situations. How do you work in diverse populations?”

Adding MMI to the admissions process gives a more robust, richer picture of the candidate, Hanson said.

“We feel it’s a really good, constant measure throughout with all different candidates,” she said. “We’re really pleased and excited. It’s really raised the level of expectation of professionalism. By far, the majority said it opened their eyes to issues they will have to face in the future.”

The two MMI stations feature standardized patients – actors trained to simulate patient interactions. The MMI scenarios are similar to many of the communication encounters applicants would have as students, said Sandra Garner, Standardized Patient Program Director/Instructor.

“This is early exposure to the program. It’s a powerful tool,” she said.

WesternU has been offering the Standardized Patient program since 1987. Actors, teachers, housewives and students are recruited from local theater groups and venues, or come from referrals or Craigslist, and are trained and supervised by staff and tested by doctors. Carefully designed rubrics and videotape reviews are used for evaluation and validation. MMI gives prospective students an early view of what to expect in the Standardized Patient program.

“Since we’ve been using MMI, it’s been very enlightening, because it allows you to see the candidate in a different venue, where they’re actually dealing with clinical scenarios and you can measure different types of behavior that might not be immediately evident,” said COMP Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Surgery Marian Safaoui, MD. “I think it helps identify the type of student that would be the best fit for this institution, encompassing the mission that the university has — caring, compassionate, lifelong learners. This way you’re seeing this other side of them that you cannot adequately assess on the paper application.”

Other osteopathic schools are using MMI, and it is also being talked about at the corporate level and at residency levels as a way to interview in the future, Adams said.

Previously, prospective students were asked standardized questions, but the results were filtered through the interviewer’s interpretation. MMI attempts to reduce interviewer bias and improve the validity of the admissions evaluation.

COMP students need to be team players because the curriculum includes many small-group breakout sessions, Adams said. Some prospective students may have outstanding qualifications but might be more comfortable at another school.

“It’s selecting people who we think will be happy and successful in our curriculum,” he said. “And from their point of view, they see whether their learning style is good for this curriculum. Because there truly are other curriculums out there that may fit them better.”