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How to Approach Role Plays During your Medical School Interviews?

By Dr Rony Sanyal

· Interview

So, you’re almost there with your medical school interview preparation. You’ve done all the research into the NHS you can, your mind is bursting with facts and figures you can now see in your dreams. You are a master detective at ethical scenarios, able to look at almost any dilemma and decipher its hidden ethical meaning. And yet, after all this preparation, there’s still one small, tiny ounce of doubt in your mind, about one very popular station in Multi Mini Interview (MMI) circuits, you will have to face whether you like it or not: The role play station.

medical-school-mmi-role-play

Well, first things first, you aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last person to have these thoughts. Now here comes the good news. You can prepare for role-play stations. You can impress your examiners in a role play station. I can show you how easy it is to prepare for role-play stations with my top six tips. Interested? Let’s begin.

1. Why are Role Play Stations so Popular?

Why do medical schools favour this type of examination format? It’s because it allows them to visually assess your communication skills. A candidate may have taken part in a huge deal of work experience and be able to talk about their exceptional communication skills, however, the only real way for medical schools to assess this is to see how they interact with potential patients, friends, and colleagues in real situations.

what-to-expect-for-medical-school-interview-role-play

Communication is really a fundamental part of medicine. As a doctor, you will rely on your communication skills every day to help achieve your goals and outcomes. You will develop new skills and techniques as you go along and become more experienced and comfortable with using communication to enhance your medical practice.  Now you understand why medical schools favour role-play stations and hence why you should devote plenty of time to prepare for them.

2. Various Types of Role Play Scenarios

There is no unexpected role play station! The scenarios can be different, the circumstances can be different, the actors can be different but you should always be able to recognise the type of role pay station you’re in. Once you recognise this, you have won half the battle. There are three general types of role-play stations:

1. Breaking bad news: This can be anything from telling a patient they have been diagnosed with cancer to explaining to a friend that they can’t be captain of your football team anymore.

 2. Explaining a concept: You could be asked to explain the health implications of chronic alcohol consumption to an alcoholic or asked to explain how to memorise a script for a play.

 3. Gathering information/comforting someone: This could involve taking a history from a patient in clinic or finding out why one of your friends does not want to go to a football match today. The role player may become angry, upset or emotional in these stations.

medical-school-role-play-scenarios

As the station progresses, you should find the role player’s ‘hidden agenda’ and be able to solve problems to come to a solution. For example, the reason your friend might not want to go to the football match today is that they there has been a bereavement in the family and they are upset about this. It is then your role to try and comfort them if they become upset and offer solutions to help them.

3. A Specific Approach to Each Type of Scenario

In addition to the general tips, there are some specific things you need to do once you have recognised the type of scenario you are faced with!

how-to-act-during-role-play-for-med-school
  1. Breaking bad news: The key skill to display in this station is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand, share or experience the feeling someone is going through. Make sure you use phrases like ‘I can imagine how difficult this must be for you’.  Remember to give a warning shot before delivering the bad news: ‘I am afraid I have some unfortunate news’. Check if the setting is suitable for the role player and if they would like additional support from friends and family before you break the news.
  2. Explaining a concept: Remember to give the information in small bite-sized chunks and regularly check if the patient understands. This is called chunk and check. Do not use medical jargon. Ensure the role player has plenty of opportunities to ask questions throughout the role play.
  3. Gathering information/comforting someone: This type of station may require you to look for information or comfort someone. Use the ICE technique to gather the information you need.

I = IDEAS (What do you think?)

C= CONCERNS (Is there anything that is particularly worrying you?)

E = EXPECTATIONS (What would you like to happen after this/what can we do for you?)

Remember to ask open questions and repeat some of the information given to show active listening skills. When comforting someone, make sure you ask questions to clarify their feelings but remember not to compromise your values, duties as a doctor or ethical principles in the process! Instead, acknowledge their issues but respectfully show them a different perspective to help them. For example, if a patient is angry and wants to see a doctor straight away when you tell them their appointment has been delayed by one hour as they must pick up their kids from nursery, you should inquire if alternative arrangements can be made to pick up the kids.

4. Always Picture the Scene

MMIs are stressful environments, it can be easy to rush into the role play without understanding the scenario and what is expected of you. You will always get some time before you begin to read some information before you begin the role play. I recommend to focus on answering three main questions on what you read:

  1. Who is the scenario asking you to be? For example, a doctor, a friend or a colleague.​
  2. Where is the scenario taking place? Is it a quiet environment where you’re breaking bad news or outside your neighbour’s house?​
  3. What is the scenario asking you to do?
medical-school-interview-role-play-practise

You should then take a moment to plan how you approach the scenario. If it’s ‘breaking bad news’ you need to approach it differently than if the scenario is asking you to explain a concept. Being armed with this knowledge before you begin the roleplay comes in very handy for scoring points. Keep on reading to find out why this is the case!

5. How do you Score Points?

There are several key skills which you should display in any roleplay station. These will score you easy points on the marking schemes:

  1. Always introduce yourself: Now you have read the scenario of the role play, you know what your role is, introduce yourself unless it’s obvious that you should not from the scenario.
  2. Ask for permission: To speak to the person. For instance, you could say, ‘Is this a good time to talk?’
  3. Apologise: If you have made a mistake or if you have not made a mistake to show you understand how the person or patient is feeling at the time.
  4. Ask open questions: Let the role player give you the information you need by saying things like ‘tell me more’, ‘can you expand on this?'
  5. Display non-verbal communication skills: Maintain eye contact with the role player at all times even if they are not looking directly at you, nod your head and repeat words to show active listening skills, sit with an open and confident body posture.
  6. Say thank you: At the end of the role play, thank the role players for their time or for putting their trust in you.

These small things all add up to help you pass the station so make sure you include them in your roleplay station.

That’s about it, folks! Well done, you’re now equipped with all the knowledge and secret techniques you ’ll need to use for those roleplays! I hope to have completely erased those doubts in your mind and made you realise you can prepare for the role play station after all.

As a doctor, you have to be comfortable & confident in a clinical environment when you communicate with patients and colleagues and therefore these are the two most important traits you should display in your role plays. How do you get there? Practice with your friends, your family and with your colleagues. View our interview services or send us an email and talk with our admission experts!

Best of luck with your medical school interviews- I will leave you with my final golden tip…Practice makes perfect!

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