“When COVID-19 hit, we kept waiting — like a lot of other schools — for things to go back to the way they were,” shared Dr. Angela Sullivan, Director of Admissions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Heersink School of Medicine. “Then we finally realized that, in order to deliver the kind of experience our applicants are looking for, we needed to go virtual.”
Like many medical schools, the UAB Heersink School of Medicine has iterated their MMI process several times in recent years. After trying to recreate a traditional MMI on Zoom, the admissions team soon discovered that using off-the-shelf tech for such an intricate process created more problems than it solved. From demanding DIY tech support, to scheduling challenges, to a year’s worth of lost data, UAB quickly realized that they could be getting so much more out of their interviewing process — if only they had the right tool.
With specific criteria in mind, UAB’s admissions team reviewed four different virtual interviewing solutions. In Kira Talent, they discovered a platform that could deliver their MMI online, while maintaining the precision and integrity inherent to the format.
“Fulfilling all of our criteria and offering us benefits we hadn’t even thought of and now can’t imagine doing without, with Kira we got everything we wanted and more — all within our budget.”
How Kira fits into UAB Medicine’s process
Each application cycle, UAB Heersink School of Medicine accepts around 186 students across nine programs including a permanent care track, combined MDPHC, and several combined graduate programs.
Using AMCAS to gather applications, those who meet the minimum requirements are automatically sent a secondary application request which includes letters of evaluation. From there, successful applicants move through a screening process before being invited to interview.
“This application flow is happening constantly throughout the cycle,” shared Amanda Bosque, Program Coordinator at UAB.
Sending out enrollment offers on a rolling basis — from early decisions in October all the way through the last interview day in March — UAB’s admissions team is engaging with applicants throughout most of the year. “In this way, we can get applicants through the process a little quicker,” Bosque explained.
That efficiency was especially important in 2021 when the school saw a 26% increase in total applications. “There was a significant difference in total application numbers from 2020 to 2021, aligning with the increase we saw happening nationally for medical schools,” shared Bosque. “That increase translated to our interviews.”
“In years past, we typically interviewed around 485 applicants. With Kira, we were able to conduct 576 interviews — all in less time.”
Evolving the MMI for a new era
Achieving this streamlined process is the product of three years of evolution in UAB Medicine’s interviewing process.
“Historically, we would have nine Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) stations and one traditional 20-25 minute interview,” explained Dr. Sullivan. “In 2020 that all changed. We moved our process online with Zoom. That’s all we had, so that’s what we went with.”
“With Zoom we just weren’t able to run our interviews the way we wanted to,” she continued. “Recreating our nine station process was impossible, so to make it work we created a modified MMI. Instead of nine individual stations with one rater and one applicant, we had two raters with a single applicant as they went through three stations.”
“This was absolutely not ideal,” Dr. Sullivan added. “We just could not figure out how to reasonably run nine full MMI stations on Zoom.”
Approaching the 2022 cycle, UAB’s admissions team realized that the only way to move forward was to invest in an admissions interviewing tool that could deliver the same components of their traditional interview day in a virtual format.
“We reviewed four possible solutions to conduct a virtual MMI,” shared Dr. Sullivan. “In addition to transitioning back to a nine station MMI, we laid out several other criteria. We knew that if we could find something that fulfilled our checklist, we would be really excited about it."
UAB Heersink School of Medicine’s platform criteria:
- Reestablish the integrity of the MMI
- Host simultaneous interviews
- Offer robust customization
- Support with a full-service solution
Reestablishing the integrity of the MMI
“With hundreds of applicants across nine different programs each moving through nine MMI stations, the data we produce from a single interviewing cycle is substantial,” shared Dr. Sullivan. “We look at this data every single year as part of our enrollment management process.”
A key focus of UAB’s process review centred around ensuring that the interviewing process is equitable.
“It’s really important to us to know whether our stations are affecting our applicants in adverse ways,” explained Dr. Sullivan. “For example, we’ve gotten rid of a station because there was significant data showing that applicants in certain categories were not performing as well.”
“Underrepresentation in medicine or in certain medical programs is something we’re very concerned about. We want to make sure that we’re not inadvertently putting certain groups at a disadvantage. Consistently reviewing the data from our interviewing process is one of the ways in which we’re working to remedy that.”
By switching to a modified three-station MMI in Zoom, UAB Medicine lost a whole year of data.
“We can’t compare that data to other years because it was such a different format,” Dr. Sullivan explained. “So having lost this data over the past year was a huge deal for us.”
With Kira's Live Interviewing, UAB has been able to transition back to a nine-station MMI format and has gotten back those important validity markers they were missing.
“We very briefly talked about sticking with what we were doing and keeping the modified MMI through to 2022,” Dr. Sullivan added. “I am so glad that we didn’t do that.”
Streamlining with simultaneous interviews
“When we were in person, there were at least two, and up to five different events going on at one time,” shared Dr. Sullivan.
A nine station MMI, 25-minute one-on-one interviews, an office of diversity and inclusion presentation, and various student panels were all happening simultaneously.
“With Zoom that just wasn’t possible,” Dr. Sullivan explained. “Not only was the juggling of multiple meetings and breakout rooms an onerous task, but with so much happening, Zoom would get really slow and the experience would get diminished or disrupted.”
Being able to have simultaneous interviews — on a platform that could handle the capacity — was a key factor in UAB’s decision to conduct their interviews with Kira.
“By moving back to simultaneous interviewing on the Kira platform, we’ve shortened our interview day by two hours.”
“It’s made it a lot more friendly for any parents who needed to get their kids off to school and then join the interview,” added Dr. Sullivan. “But mostly that time was taken off the end of the day so that both applicants and reviewers truly only needed to dedicate a half-day for our interviews.”
The flexibility of robust customization
“The other component that has really been a huge win for us has been the robust customization options that Kira offers,” Dr. Sullivan shared. “It’s one thing to talk about it when you’re trying to decide whether to purchase a product, but having actually lived in it this past year, you can feel the difference.”
Across the school’s nine different programs, Kira helped ensure that UAB Medicine was delivering a consistent interviewing experience while still allowing for personalization to suit the unique needs of each program.
“For example, one program needed two interviewers for each applicant,” explained Dr. Sullivan. “We simply told our Client Success Manager (CSM) and she took care of the adjustments for us. Another program didn’t want the closing video to play at the end of the interview, and again, we simply made the request and our CSM made the changes for us.”
“Having that level of platform customization, and also the level of highly personalized support from Kira meant we could spend less time managing the details of interviews and more time focusing on the overall admissions process.”
Saving time with a full-service solution
“There were quite a few aspects we struggled with when we had interviews in Zoom last cycle,” shared Bosque.
With hundreds of applicants and even more reviewers, each needing a unique set and sequence of interview links, scheduling was one of the most significant challenges with the Zoom process.
“Any time we had an applicant that cancelled or an interviewer that we had to replace, it was a lot of work on our end to move those people around and sort out that timing,” Bosque explained. “Because of that, my time last year was solely dedicated to interview logistics. Given the small size of our team, that was a really big depletion of resources for us.”
Another draw on UAB’s time came from managing technical support in-house. From poor network connections to camera and microphone problems, another member of UAB’s admissions team was focused solely on helping participants troubleshoot technical issues.
“We only have four people on our admissions team, so with one person dedicated solely to DIY tech support and one person dedicated to managing the links, that left only two of us to handle the rest,” shared Dr. Sullivan. “I can’t stress enough how much easier Kira has made that entire experience.”
“With Kira, we estimate that we save over 30 hours from not having tech-check meetings alone.”
“To ensure that our participants felt prepared for their Zoom interviews we implemented what we called ‘tech checks’,” she explained. “At a minimum, we were hosting two tech checks each week, one for applicants and one for interviewers. However, with many of our interviewers and raters being physicians or med students, they just weren’t able to get to those tech checks. So realistically we were hosting three or four tech checks each week so that 30+ hours is probably grossly underestimated.”
“It got a little bit ridiculous,” she added, “but you do what you have to do to make sure that your people are comfortable.”
With Kira, ‘tech checks’ are built into the platform and are offered asynchronously, allowing participants the ability to confirm that everything is working as many times as they like, without any assistance from the admissions team.
Now, with Kira Talent, Bosque can get back to helping her team engage their applicants.
“Not having to schedule infinite tech checks each week, not having to reorganize and reschedule breakout sessions when there were cancellations or substitutions were needed — all of this has made our process Kira stress-free and hassle-free,” Dr. Sullivan shared. “Our team really did the best with what we had before, but it is not what we’re meant to do.”
“Having that full-service operation behind us allowed us to get back to what we’re really here for, which is to engage and assess the applicants.”
The future of admissions for UAB Medicine
“We are a four-campus institution at UAB, meaning we have campuses in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Birmingham,” Dr. Sullivan shared. “With Live Interviewing in Kira, our faculty and students on all four campuses are able to engage in our interviewing process, which means that we now have actual representation of our university in our admissions process.”
“That benefit hadn’t honestly occurred to us, but it has been felt and mentioned by our staff and students, as well as higher leadership.”
The increased accessibility of UAB Heersink School of Medicine’s admissions process has also been felt by applicants.
“With our virtual admissions process we are no longer forcing applicants to make a decision on their schooling based on whether they can afford to travel to an interview or not,” Dr. Sullivan explained. “Instead, we now host visiting days for accepted students.”
“There’s something very different about visiting campus on interview day compared to visiting when you’re already admitted,” she continued. “Not only does this relieve that cloud of interview stress that can cast a shadow over the visit, but the ability to afford a trip to campus doesn’t affect an applicant's ability to apply.”
“As many schools try to decide whether or not to stay virtual going forward, that’s a significant factor and is part of the reason why so many of us have decided to stay virtual."