PURPOSE: To determine whether there is a relationship between early clinical exposure and students' attitudes toward medical education. METHOD: At the end of the spring quarter, 1995, 93 first-year students at the University of Washington School of Medicine were asked to complete a one-page, 15-item questionnaire. The 11 items in the questionnaire's first section assessed the students' attitudes toward medical education; each item was rated on a five-point Likert scale (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree). The four items in the second section assessed the students' clinical exposures, including type, frequency, and duration. RESULTS: In all, 86 of the students (92%) returned completed questionnaires. The students' participation in clinical experiences was, overall, much higher than expected. A total of 77 students (90%) reported some form of clinical exposure. The clinical-exposure group was defined as those students who had participated in a preceptorship for at least one academic quarter (a half-day per week in clinic) or who had at least five days of clinical experience. Significance tests revealed that the students in the clinical-exposure group were more satisfied with their medical education than were the other students (p = .009). The students' attitudes toward medical education were generally favorable, regardless of their clinical exposures. However, approximately one fourth of the class expressed discontent with the process of medical education, and 40% indicated they were more cynical than when they had started school. CONCLUSION: The results of this study suggest that early clinical experience may contribute to students' satisfaction with medical education.