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Medical Interview: A Guide to MMI Detech Stations

Published on
May 13, 2024

In our previous articles on the types of medical school interviews, we mentioned that an MMI (multi-mini interview) consists of many different ‘stations’. Each station is a separate room, with a separate interviewer and a unique line of questioning and interview format. A staple of the MMI is the detechnicalisation or ‘detech’ station. Students have reported encountering detech questions at least once, across nearly every medical school MMI in Australia, over the past decade. 

The reason why detech stations are so highly valued by medical schools is because they directly test a core skill relevant to medical work. Specifically, the ability to communicate complicated jargon to a lay-person. This process is certainly complicated. Your goal is to explain the concept to your patient as clearly as possible, so that they can make informed autonomous decisions about their healthcare - this is a core ethics principle. At the same time however, you have to avoid sounding patronising. Neither should you reduce the concept to meaningless simplicity. 

In this article, we will discuss the best approach to responding to detech stations. We will also discuss key steps in preparing for a detech MMI, as well as the various formats of this station type that exist across Australian universities

What Is An MMI Detech Station?

As mentioned previously, the ‘detech’ station requires a student to de-technicalise a word or concept from the biomedical sphere. Generally - this will be the only exercise that you will be required to undertake at this station. Reflecting the scope of this take, you are expected to consider your phrasing, and present all the relevant information relating to the concept, within the few minutes allocated to this station.

Breaking down this MMI station format from the very beginning, it is important to mention that you may get a selection of concepts, from which you can choose which you would like to explain. Often, you will be required to select a single distinct term out of a list of three or four. Each of the options generally reflects a separate field within biomedical science. For example, your three options for a detech station may include; frequency, cell, and activation energy. These concepts are related to the fields of physics, biology and chemistry respectively. This is by design, as the station is largely designed to assess your capacity to explain complex concepts, rather than test your understanding. As such, they try to avoid placing students in positions where they have to detech unfamiliar concepts. 

Once you have selected the concept you wish to explain, the next step is to consider the key points that you need to communicate. While your understanding of the concept is not directly tested, your capacity to select the most important aspect to explain will contribute to your score. For example, if your task is to de-technicalise the word ‘cell’, it would be inappropriate to dwell on the phospholipid bilayer. This is because while the bilayer may be important from a biology perspective it is completely irrelevant to a lay-person. Consider which aspect of the concept is most impactful - this is what you should communicate. 

Finally, consider your audience. In the medical world, your audience will be the worried relatives of your patient, or perhaps the patient themself. When asked to clarify a complex medical situation, it would be inappropriate to be patronising, or attempt to impress your conversation partner with your knowledge. Your task here is to communicate the salient points that would be important in a decision-making process. Returning to our example of a cell, it is far more important to state that a cell is the basic building block of the human body, than it is to even mention the endoplasmic reticulum.

Do you know some of the strengths and weaknesses you can discuss during a medical interview? Read our article to work on your interview response

How To Prepare For Detech MMI?

When it comes to preparing for a detech MMI station, the most important resource you have at your disposal are your non-medical friends and family. Given that the goal of this station type is to explain jargon to a lay-person, it is critical that you receive feedback on your communication skills from a lay-person. 

A strong start to preparing for your detech MMI would be to make a shortlist of technical terms from your university science course, and attempt to explain it to a lay-person of choice. For example, set aside 15 minutes every second evening to describe a couple of concepts to your parents, and then receive feedback. There are two points of feedback that are especially helpful in detech preparation.

Firstly, you should ask your preparation partner to reflect on the tone that you used. Specifically, clarify if it was engaging, and appropriately professional. Secondly, ask your partner if there was any jargon that slipped into your explanation. This would include any terms that your practice partners have difficulty understanding. Finally, ask your family member or friends to explain the concept back to you. If there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication, listening back to your explanation from your conversation partner’s perspective will amplify it, and make it easier for you to adapt your future detech answers. 

Beyond this specific preparation method, all of the standard MMI and interview improvement strategies apply to detech MMI stations. We have detailed this in our previous articles on interviews, however in short, practice makes perfect. This includes reviewing answers with a study group, delivering your answers in front of a mirror, and finally (and most importantly) recording your responses with your webcam, and marking your performance as an outside observer. 

Detech Station MMI Example:

Detechnicalise - ‘Enzyme’

Step 1: Key Points

  • Enzymes exist in the biological world, inside the bodies of plants and animals
  • Enzymes are involved in catalysing reactions
  • Catalyzing a reaction means lowering its activation energy, so that it can proceed.

Step 2: Audience

  • Layperson (no science background)

Step 3: Brief Explanation

Enzymes are chemicals that are found in the natural world - specifically inside of plants and animals. Inside our bodies, there are lots of chemical reactions that happen. For example, the food that we eat gets broken down into energy, or, after you go to the gym, your body uses chemical reactions to build more muscle. But these chemical reactions can’t happen by themselves. They need enzymes to help them occur.

So how does a chemical reaction use an enzyme?

Well the most straightforward analogy is if we compare a chemical reaction with the real-world process of lighting a fire.

In the real world, fires generally don’t light themselves - you need a spark to start the fire. This extra ‘kick’ that sets the wood alight is something that we call the ‘activation energy’. The chemical reactions that happen in your body are identical - they can’t start without an initial energy kick. 

Now if you try to light wet wood on fire, it will be really challenging, you will need a lot of sparks to make the watery wood burn. So in some circumstances, you need more activation energy than normal. This is where enzymes come in - an enzyme is a chemical that helps a reaction by lowering this activation energy. In other words, an enzyme is like a chemical that helps the wood dry out, so that you need less sparks. 

In the body, enzymes help chemicals get into a state when they can more easily react. That is, help the dinner you ate to be converted into energy more easily, or even, make it easier for your body to build more muscle. 

Detech MMI Special Cases: ANU Medical School

A final remark that needs to be made about MMI detech stations, is that there are certain medical schools which approach these stations with a twist. Specifically, ANU medical school in Canberra is known for its unorthodox approach to admission interviews. 

The ANU interview has a strong focus on evaluating applicant communication skills. For this reason, they tend to design supplementary interview stations that test this skills set. The following are examples of communication/detech equivalent stations from ANU. All of the examples below were marked under timed conditions.

  1. This station involves candidates learning the rules of a novel game. After you have familiarised yourself with the written instructions of the game, explain them to your assessor. Once you are satisfied with your explanation, attempt to play a single round of this game, according to the rules as you have understood them.
  2. This station involves candidates learning a novel paper folding technique. Once you have familiarised yourself with the instructions, attempt to fold the paper appropriately. Following this, explain the procedure to your assessor, and support their replication of the process.

As can be seen, these stations engage a detech skillset identical to a standard MMI. In these scenarios, a trained ‘specialist’ has to communicate technical information to a ‘lay-person’. While the specific format of the station may be unpredictable, the principles for approaching this detech variant are identical.