Little is known about the effectiveness of clinical education. A more educational structure is considered to be potentially beneficial. The following structured components were added to a surgical clerkship: logbooks, an observed student-patient encounter, individual appraisals, feedback on patient notes, and (case) presentations by students. The authors organized two focus-group sessions in which 19 students participated to explore their perceptions about effective clinical learning experiences and the newly introduced structured components. The analysis of the transcripts showed that observation and constructive feedback are key features of clinical training. The structured activities were appreciated and the results show the direction to be taken for further improvement. Learning experiences depended vastly on individual clinicians' educational qualities. Students experienced being on call, assisting in theatre and time for self-study as instructive elements. Recommended clerkship components are: active involvement of students, direct observation, selection of teachers, a positive learning environment and time for self-study.