The MMI Communication Station (Explained!)

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.

Your medicine MMI will almost certainly have some sort of communication station.

Why? Because being able to communicate effectively and clearly is such a massive part of being a doctor. Here’s a quick summary of what you should be aiming for:

Always try to give as clear and simple instructions as you can. Regularly check the interviewer’s understanding throughout the station. Begin with general descriptions before getting more specific. Stay calm and try and act as you would explaining something to a friend!

In this article, as well as expanding on all the above, I’m going to look at the two most common MMI communication stations:

  1. Giving Instructions Stations
  2. Describing An Image Station

Although they might seem quite different initially, the approach is almost identical for both.

Giving Instructions In The MMI

The giving instructions station is all about testing your ability to simplify complex tasks into comprehensible chunks of bite-size information.

The thing is you could be the best doctor in the world, but if you can’t clearly communicate you plans to patients they’re not going to follow them and not get any better.

Because of this, I think it’s one of the most important skills a doctor can have.

And the medical schools seem to agree as many test it in their MMIs!

Giving Instructions Example Stations

Giving instructions stations are going to revolve around you explaining a particular method or series of steps that need to be undertaken.

You’re usually instructing the interviewer but sometimes this could be an actor too.

Your station might be:

  • Teaching someone how to wrap a present in wrapping paper
  • classic example is teaching someone how to tie their shoes with no props or hand gestures
  • Instructing someone how to make a tea who’s never done it before
  • Giving directions to someone who isn’t allowed to look at your map
  • Explaining how to solve a maze to an actor who will only follow your instructions

The things or tasks you’ll need to explain can cover a wide variety of things so I wouldn’t prepare for any one in particular.

What you need to develop is the skillset to approach any of these examples.

Start General When Giving Instructions

After introducing yourself, your first step should always be to outline your aims to the interviewer or actor.

“Hi, my name is Ollie and I’m going to give you directions to drive from point A to point B.”

“Are you ready to start?”

This makes your intentions clear to the interviewer.

This means even if you don’t get to finish within the station’s time limit they’ll know what your goal was.

Following this, your first few instructions should communicate the bigger picture to the interviewer.

Try to describe a bird’s eye view of the task you’ve been asked to communicate.

“The route is generally going to take you in an east to west direction and covers about 10km.”

“You’re going to start in an urban area and end up next to the sea.”

Don’t get sucked into the smaller details just yet.

By taking a moment to describe things in broader terms the subject will have a far better understanding of the task at hand.

It will also give you a second to gather your thoughts before diving into the nitty-gritty.

Being Clear When You Give Instructions

When giving your instructions aim for short, clear sentences.

Avoid:

“After the first left you’ll want to go about 400m and then take the second right after the T-junction.”

Try to never lump two instructions into one sentence or step.

Although it may be tempting to try and save time, it’s far more confusing for the subject.

Take everything one action at a time:

“Initially take the first left turn you see.”

“Next, drive about 400m. In doing so you should pass a T-junction.”

“After you’ve passed the T-junction take the second right turn you see.”

Let the interviewer know they’re welcome to interrupt you at any time and you’re happy to repeat anything they don’t understand.

The Chunk & Check Technique

Don’t wait until the end of the station to see if the interviewer has got any questions…

The chunk and check technique is after each small chunk of information, you check their understanding.

This might be you asking if they understood that…

“Did you get all that? I know that step seems a bit confusing.”

 Or you can ask them to briefly repeat back to you what you just said:

“Would you mind just repeating back to me what | just said in your own words?”

This makes sure the interviewer is taking in everything you’re saying rather than just sitting in stunned silence!

It’s also actually exactly what you should be doing if you have to break bad news in an MMI.

Be Precise When You Give Instructions

The more precise you can be in your instructions the better you’ll perform.

For example:

“Your next right turn will come after about 15 minutes of driving and you’ll have seen the sea on your left.”

Is a step that’s much easier to follow than:

“Next, you need to turn right after a bit.”

By being more precise you’ll reduce the margin for error.

In these sorts of stations the interviewer is often told to do the wrong thing if there’s ambiguity in what you’re saying.

By only giving highly precise instructions you avoid this trap and it should help you achieve the objective quicker.

Stay Calm In The Station

An important thing to remember is that you’re marked on your instruction not the results.

The person you’re giving instructions to may purposefully get things wrong.

Keep your cool.

Just restate your instructions in either a more precise way, or from a different point of view.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t quite clear on that point, I meant that you should stay in the left hand lane rather than take the next left.”

Even if at the end of a ‘tying a shoelace’ station the interviewer has got one shoelace wrapped round their leg and the other up their nose, if you gave clear, comprehensible instructions, you’ll be marked well.

It’s important to remember this station can be intentionally designed to test your patience.

A doctor explains a possible treatment option to a patient

Patients in real life won’t always follow what you say so medical schools don’t want to accept candidates who will blow their top the minute this happens.

To prepare I’d recommend sitting down with a friend or family member and testing yourself on some made-up stations.

It can be great fun completely misinterpreting your friend’s instructions to really test their descriptive skills. . !

Describing An Image In The MMI

The next MMI communication station I’m going to cover is the describing an image station.

The essence of the station is you describing an image to someone who can’t see it.

Although it may seem like an arbitrary challenge, it’s actually incredibly relevant to working as a junior doctor.

You’ll often need to describe rashes, wounds or other examination findings to colleagues who haven’t seen the patient.

Describing an image is also integral to interpreting medical imaging.

Trying to explain what a chest x-ray shows to a senior will test exactly the same skills as this MMI communication station.

Describing An image Example Stations

There are quite a few variations of the describing an image station but the crux of the challenge remains the same.

You might be asked to:

  • Describe a painting to a blind person
  • Describe a photograph of a wound to someone over the phone
  • Describe an image to someone who then has to draw it from only your description

At the end of your description, you might then be asked for your interpretation of the image.

These are the conclusions you can draw from what you can see.

For example, if the image is a photograph of people having a snowball fight you might conclude it’s winter.

Start General When Describing An Image

Exactly like in the ‘giving instructions’ station, you want to start general when describing an image.

So that would mean you’d start by saying you’re looking at a photograph of a football stadium, before delving into what each football fan is wearing.

It’s this sort of outside-in approach that you want to use throughout your description.

By starting with the fundamentals whoever you’re describing it to will have a much clearer mental image than if you only focus on the fine details.

Describing An Image With MESTPEST

MESTPEST is my questionable acronym for remembering a systematic approach to describing an image.

MESTPEST stands for:

MeMedium
SSetting
TTime
PePeople
SScenery
TThings


Let’s work through an example image so I can show you how each heading relates to your description.

You have three minutes to describe this image to your interviewer. The interviewer has never seen the image before and is not allowed to look at the image.

Please be as accurate and specific as you can in the time.

Photo: Yuting Gao

Medium

I think describing the medium of the image that you’re looking at is the perfect way to start.

Is it a drawing? A painting? A photograph? A photograph of a painting?

By stating the medium you set the stage for the rest of your description.

“Hi, I’m Ollie and I’m going to describe an image to you over the next three minutes.”

“Are you ready to begin?”

“Great, well to start off I believe the image is a photograph.”

Setting

By ‘setting’ I mean the overall setting/scene seen in the image.

Is it a sketched portrait? A painting of a famous battle? Or a photograph from a New Year’s eve party?

The idea here is to convey what the image is ‘of’ in the broadest sense.

“The photograph is a street scene in a busy city.”

“It’s taken at roughly eye-level looking down the middle of a road with buildings on either side.”

Time

‘Time’ refers to both the time of day seen in the image as well as when it may date from.

You won’t always be able to tell each of these things from the image but if you can they’re worth mentioning.

“The photo was taken at night-time.”

“Judging from the large advertisements that clad the buildings it was likely taken in the last ten years.”

People

The image you’re presented with may not include people.

But if it does it’s certainly worth picking them out.

A few things you could consider are:

  • How many people can you see?
  • What are they doing?
  • What sex are they?
  • How are they dressed?

“By looking carefully you can pick out a fair number of small dark figures lining the street.”

“None are in the foreground but I’d estimate about 25-30 people can be seen in the photo.”

“One stands out in the central mid-ground as they’re crossing the road.”

“Many are holding umbrellas and are wearing jackets.”

Scenery

In the ‘scenery’ section you can flesh out the environment in a bit more detail.

What can you see in the background that contributes to the image?

“Numerous neon signs hang from the buildings on either side of the street.”

“Their reflections can be seen as blurs of colour in the wet road.”

“Two skyscrapers can be made out in the gloom of the distance.”

Things

The last section of MESTPEST is ‘things.’

Here you should describe any notable things or objects you can see in the image.

You can also use it to address any other items that haven’t fallen under the previous categories.

“There are a number of cars that be seen, some of which are parked on the edge of the street.”

“A singular SUV stands out in the foreground as its headlights point directly into the camera.”

“The headlight beams pick out slightly blurred droplets of rain.”

‘Check In’ When Describing An Image

Just as when you’re giving an interviewer instructions, it’s important to check in with them as you describe an image.

Just simple phrases such as “Are you following so far?” sprinkled into your description can make it a lot more human and less robotic.

This is doubly important if the person you’re describing it to has to draw what you’re describing!

Final Thoughts

A lot of doing well in a medicine MMI communication station is just being a normal sociable human.

Which isn’t always easy under the pressure of interview day!

If you were giving a friend instructions on how to get somewhere, or describing a photo to them, you’d try and give clear, simple statements and check their understanding as you went along.

Which is exactly what you need to do in the MMI- it’s just making the conscious effort to do so in such stressful circumstances.

Now you’ve read this guide however I’m confident you’re going to smash it.

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.