Role-play stations are like live scenarios: you are given a role (usually one of a doctor, medical student or a friend) and have to act out a scene with the interviewer, who is usually a trained actor. These situations are usually meant to put you in an uncomfortable position, which is meant to assess how you react to pressure and stress and assess your communication skills and empathy in action, all of which are key in the job as a doctor. Hence the popularity of role-plays in medical school interviews: the admissions officers can see all the qualities and skills you've written about in your personal statement or talked in other stations live, in practice.
These scenarios can "take place" in a medical or non-medical context. The most common types of situations given to applicants include breaking bad news, comforting an angry patient, explaining a mistake or letting someone down. You are always given the scenario before entering the station as well as some time to read and think it through. Here is an example of what you can be given in an MMI (for more see Useful Resources below):
You were supposed to take care of your friend's cat, while they were on holiday. A few hours before your friend was meant to come back, you realised you forgot to close the front door and the cat went missing. You tried looking around the house but to no avail. Your friend (Max), just arrived home. Break the news to them.
👺 Impersonate The Person You Are Meant To Be. If you take on the role of a doctors/medical student try to show all the attributes of a good doctor (professionalism, confidence, compassion etc.). You'll then need to be more professional, than if you were given a scenario where you are a friend talking to your best mate. This works also the other way round: Think carefully about who are you speaking to and be flexible with your approach. If you are speaking to a child you may want to use simpler vocabulary and a more cheerful tone, while when talking to a friend you want to be more personal and open.
🥇 Leave a Good First Impression. Walk into the room confidently and with a smile. Greet the actor and introduce yourself if you are talking to anyone other than your friend or a relative (who you are, what your role is) or make a brief small talk (ask them how they feel, for instance) before moving on to the difficult part.
🔲 Take Advantage of Answer Frameworks. Use SPIKES (Setting, Perception, Information, Knowledge, Emotions, Strategy) for breaking bad news (not only the clinical news) or ICE (Ideas, Concerns, Expectations) for many other kinds of issues. If you haven't already, read more about SPIKES and ICE and their use in the Medical Ethics & Scenarios section of the guide under Breaking Bad News and Angry Patient Scenario, as these will certainly come in handy for role-plays.
🗨️ Ask Open-Ended Questions. When the actor tells you about the stress they feel, try to dig deeper into the roots of the cause and ask them about what they think may be the reason for that. If you are confronting your project group about losing your part of the work, ask them what they think an appropriate solution would be. Get the other party involved in reaching the solution to make them feel engaged in it and reach an exit that suits both sides. That's especially important to consider in medical role-plays, as involving the patients in the care is a cornerstone of patient-centred care, which is practised nowadays. This technique may also allow the actor to give you additional information that may be valuable to the way you approach the problem.
📹 Learn From Others: Watch a well-conducted role-play station and try to mimic it yourself with a friend or a relative. Below within the 📚 Useful Resources, we have collected a few video examples of what a model role-play response should look like. But don't limit yourself to just watching: Practice role-plays a couple of times to get comfortable and confident with acting out a tough conversation and ease interview stress.
👂 Acknowledge You Are Listening. Nod your head while listening, keep constant eye contact, add an "mhm" from time to time or even rephrase what the actor said to show you understand and ensure you caught all the important elements (but don't do it every time they say something - it will eat a lot of time and sound inauthentic). Active listening shows your engagement, understanding and empathy.
📖 Not Reading the Instructions Carefully Enough. To prevent a situation where you forgot about a key fact from the scenario you can use the following technique: After greeting and introducing yourself to the interviewer you can rephrase what you remember. It's sometimes a good way to begin the conversation and if you happen to remember a detail inaccurately, the actor will correct you. Keep in mind that you won't always be able to check all information (like when you are breaking bad news) or apply it to all scenarios.
😡 Getting Carried Away and Being Impatient. Don't interrupt the actor when they are speaking. Don't be scared or think you are doing something wrong if they start insulting you, shouting or making you feel guilty (it's always a part of the script the actors follow). Remember it's just a hypothetical scenario with no real-life consequences.
🏃 Avoiding Responsibility. If in the scenario the fault lies on your side make sure to admit to the mistake, apologise and take responsibility. An example for that could be: "I'm so sorry Markus, I know I let you down, I've been really irresponsible keeping the gate open. I led to the problem, so now I'll try to resolve it."
⚠️ Being Inauthentic. After practising role-plays ask your interview partner how genuine and caring you seemed. Try avoiding canned phrases and get into the other person's shoes to come across as empathetic.
I know what you are thinking. Role-plays sound tough and scary. But, trust me, everyone finds them so. Handling difficult conversations is something you learn throughout medical school and then master in practice as a doctor. Why would you be expected to know how to do it before you even got accepted? Try not to overstress about it: Medical schools don't expect you to be at the same level as a specialised doctor after years of training.
Luckily, even if you mess something up or don't reassure the actor enough, the world won't end. Remember that in MMIs you start each new station with a clean slate, so even if something doesn't go to plan, try to forget about it for a while and channel all your attention to the present station. As long as you stick to a few rules outlined below and most importantly practice role-plays several times, you should be equipped with all the knowledge and skills to ace the station.
Preparing for medical school interviews requires more than just reading an article or doing a mock interview. It requires intentionality, structure and commitment. Luckily, with Medfully it is simpler and more efficient than ever: