The MMI Prioritisation Station (Essential Guide)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

MMI prioritisation stations commonly appear in the multiple mini interview (MMI) format used by many medical schools.

The basic concept is that you’re given a scenario in which you have to prioritise certain objects or actions over each other given limited resources.

Medical schools want to test this in their applicants as it’s an essential skill to being a good doctor- it’s actually one of the things I struggled with most when I started work after graduating from medical school.

In this article, I’m going to give you everything you’ll need to know to ace the station- including running through three different example MMI scenarios

What Is The MMI Prioritisation Station?

As I mentioned, in this station a candidate is generally presented with a scenario and then asked to prioritise a set of items or actions based on the situation.

This could be ranking them in order of importance/urgency or it could be selecting a limited number out of a larger pool to pick from.

The items or actions may be related to a medical scenario, such as a patient’s condition or jobs a junior doctor has to do, but equally, they may be more general, such as items to take on a weekend away.

Some examples of MMI prioritisation stations that candidates may encounter include:

  • Choosing five out of ten items to take camping with you
  • Deciding which patients to treat first in a busy emergency department
  • Prioritising tasks in a busy clinic setting

After having made your selection, you may then have to defend your choices to your interviewer and explain why you made certain decisions.

A student undergoing an interview for medical school
A student in an MMI prioritisation station

Elements of prioritisation may also be tested in other MMI stations that aren’t solely focused on the skill.

For example, in a station mainly testing your professional judgement, you may still be required to prioritise in what order you’re going to take the necessary actions to deal with a scenario.

Why Is Prioritisation Tested In A Medicine Interview?

The purpose of the station is to assess a candidate’s ability to make decisions under pressure, to think critically and to prioritise effectively.

These are all essential skills for medical professionals, who need to make quick and accurate decisions in high-pressure situations.

As a junior doctor, you’ll frequently find yourself with a long list of jobs and not enough time to do them all.

That’s why it’s essential to be able to prioritise effectively.

You can’t just work down your to-do list from top to bottom- a patient you’ve just been told about with central crushing chest pain needs to be seen before you file away the notes from the morning’s ward round!

I have to admit I initially struggled with this when I first started work as a doctor.

Now I’m not saying I ever went for a coffee break before seeing a seriously unwell patient, but when you’re new to the job there are a lot of ‘middle ground’ jobs that are difficult to gauge the priority of because you’re not too familiar with what they entail.

The prioritisation station assesses a candidate’s capacity to analyse information, weigh up options, and make informed decisions.

Medical schools want to ensure that their students possess these critical skills as the reality is, in medicine, being able to prioritise tasks and make quick decisions can be a matter of life and death.

Medical schools also want to see how applicants cope under pressure. Prioritisation stations are often timed, and applicants must complete the task within the set time frame.

This tests your ability to work efficiently and effectively under pressure, which is another crucial skill for medical professionals.

Example MMI Prioritisation Stations

Here are 3 example prioritisation stations for you to have a think about. Prioritisation stations can come in lots of different forms, with lots of different variations, so to succeed it’s definitely more a case of learning the techniques needed to tackle them rather than learning specific example answers.

Going Sailing

Scenario: You are planning a round-the-world sailing trip and have limited space on your boat. You have identified 10 items that you would like to bring with you, but you can only fit 5 in your limited storage space. Please prioritise these items in order of importance to you.

Items:

  1. First aid kit
  2. GPS navigation system
  3. Solar-powered charging bank
  4. Personal flotation device
  5. Water purifier
  6. Handheld VHF radio
  7. Fishing gear
  8. Mirror
  9. Satellite phone
  10. Emergency distress beacon

Instructions: Please rank the above items from most important (1) to least important (10) in terms of what you would prioritise bringing on your round-the-world sailing trip. You only have room to bring 5 of these items, so make sure to consider the potential risks and benefits of each item carefully.

Assessment Criteria: The interviewer will be assessing your ability to make decisions based on limited resources and prioritise based on your values and priorities. They will be looking for evidence of rational decision-making, consideration of potential risks and benefits, and the ability to articulate and defend your choices.

Prioritising items for a sailing trip

Charity Work

Scenario: You are a medical student on a volunteer mission in a developing country. Your team is in charge of distributing aid supplies to a remote village. However, you have received word that a nearby village has just been hit by a severe earthquake and there are reports of casualties and injuries. You have limited resources and can only attend to one village at a time. You must prioritise which village to attend to first.

Task: Please explain your thought process and justify your decision at to which village to attend to first.

Assessment: This station assesses the candidate’s ability to think critically and make informed decisions under pressure. It also tests their ability to prioritise tasks and manage limited resources.

Example answer: My first step would be to assess the severity of the situation in both villages. I would gather as much information as possible about the extent of the damage, the number of casualties and injuries, and the availability of resources in each village.

Based on the severity of the situation, I would prioritise attending to the village that has been hit by the earthquake. The reason for this is that natural disasters can cause extensive damage and there is a high likelihood of casualties and injuries. The victims may require immediate medical attention and every minute counts in such situations.

However, I would also consider the resources available to me. If there are no medical supplies or personnel available to assist in the earthquake-hit village, I may have to prioritise attending to the other village first. In such a situation, I would first ensure that I have the necessary resources and personnel to provide aid in the earthquake-hit village.

Overall, my decision would be based on a combination of factors, including the severity of the situation, the availability of resources, and the likelihood of casualties and injuries.

A Busy Day

Scenario: You are a junior doctor working on a cardiothoracic ward in hospital. You’ve made plans to meet a friend for dinner tonight and want to make sure you leave work on time. However, due to how busy you’ve been over the day, you still have a few outstanding jobs.

Task: Please prioritise the order in which you’d do the following jobs and explain at what point you’d feel comfortable leaving for dinner:

  • Preparing a patient letter that needs to be ready in 2 days’ time
  • Reviewing a patient a nurse has just told you she’s quite concerned about
  • Calling a patient’s family to update them on how the patient is
  • Signing a birthday card for a colleague
  • Prescribing a painkiller for a patient who’s just asked for one

Assessment: As a medicine applicant, but not a doctor, any clinically based prioritisation scenarios should only need minimal medical knowledge in order to answer them. A lot of it will come down to making sensible decisions given the information available to you.

Example answer: If I was working on this ward here’s what I would do. It’s by no means the one correct way of dealing with the scenario, but I feel I could justifiably explain to the interviewer my actions.

  1. Reviewing a patient a nurse has just told you she’s quite concerned about- you should always take a nurse’s concerns seriously. This patient could be seriously unwell and need urgent medical attention.
  2. Prescribing a painkiller for a patient who’s just asked for one- this should be a relatively quick and easy job and will immediately make a positive difference for a patient.
  3. Calling a patient’s family to update them on how the patient is- this isn’t an urgent job but can mean a lot to a family if you can keep them in the loop regarding the care of their loved one.
  4. At this point (depending on the time) I would be content to leave for dinner!
  5. Signing a birthday card for a colleague- this should be a very quick and easy thing to do.
  6. Preparing a patient letter that needs to be ready in 2 days’ time- I felt that this is the least time-pressured job as you’ve got two days to do it. Although it’s important to do, as it is related to patient care, it’s by no means urgent.

MMI Prioritisation Task Tips

To do well in an MMI prioritisation station, candidates need to demonstrate their ability to think logically, consider the consequences of their decisions, and communicate their thought processes clearly and effectively to the interviewer.

Although there sadly aren’t any magical tricks that will always ensure you get top marks in a prioritisation station, here are my top 3 tips.

MMI Prioritisation Task Tips Pixel Infographic

Patient Safety Always Comes First

In clinically based scenarios, you need to make sure patient safety is always your number one priority.

In this regard, there’s quite a lot of overlap from the UCAT situational judgement section.

Patient safety/care should never be seriously compromised by your actions (or inactions).

In the last example above, that would mean leaving for dinner before having reviewed the patient the nurse was concerned about.

There’s Often More Than One Correct Answer

The good news is in a prioritisation station there’s often more than one correct answer.

The interviewer is primarily interested in how you justify your selections, not just what selections you make.

Of course there is a limit to this, but broadly it’s more about your thought process and logic behind your decisions, rather than the actual decisions themselves.

Verbalise As You Go

The only way your interviewer is going to get that insight into your thought process, and so be able to mark you accordingly, is if you verbalise your reasoning as you go.

Depending on the set-up for the station, you could even do a bit of a running commentary of why you’re choosing some items, disregarding others, and what you’re on the fence about.

Showcasing your logical decision-making is what’s going to get you the points, not silence followed by you listing 5 individual objects.

Prioritisation Pitfalls To Avoid

Although most candidates do generally do quite well on this station, there are a few pitfalls that you should aim to avoid…

Be Flexible If Challenged

Some MMI prioritisation stations will involve the interviewer challenging your choices after you’ve made them.

If this is happening and the interviewer makes an excellent point as to why you should have chosen another object or course of action, there’s no shame in conceding this, in hindsight, would actually have been the better choice.

A young lady in the middle of answering a medicine interview question
Justifying your prioritisation answers to your interviewer

Although your gut instinct may be to stick with and defend your original choices, when presented with new information being flexible comes across far better than being stubborn.

Don’t Rush

This is probably the easiest, and most common, mistake candidates make on this station:

It’s getting a bit stressed out and rushing.

For example, I remember I was running a mock station for a student and the scenario was they were about to get in a lifeboat from a sinking ship and had to choose a number of items to take with them.

Their immediate thought was to take a bottle of water- water is essential to life so it makes sense right?

Well, in the grand scheme of things, I thought that one 500ml bottle of water would actually be far less helpful than an umbrella.

The umbrella could be used as shade, protect you from the elements and catch rainwater when turned upside down.

The bottle of water was more of a knee-jerk reaction from the student without a huge amount of thought.

Now, of course you can argue it either way, but the point is the student was rushing when they selected the water when they may have made a different selection given a bit more thought.

Answer As A Doctor Would

The last pitfall that candidates sometimes make is answering the question with what they would actually do, rather than as a future medical professional.

This might sound slightly strange, but you need to channel how a doctor would act in the scenario- not necessarily what you’d personally do.

You need to present the ideal solution to the situation, reflecting the values and standards of the medical profession- which sometimes may mean a divergence from how you’d act in reality right now.

Final Thoughts

The MMI prioritisation station can get a bit of getting your head around when you’re first getting used to it.

It is somewhat of a game that you have to play at your interview- but once you know the rules you can certainly win!

Prioritising is a skill that, like any other, can be practiced- so even if you don’t initially feel confident with a bit of time I’m sure you’ll end up hoping this station comes up at your medical school interview.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.