Abstract Background: Medical school and resident training programmes offer different learning opportunities and outcomes. The aim of the study was to assess medical student and intern experience in common clinical procedures. Methods: Interns employed in a metropolitan teaching hospital from 2000 to 2004 completed a survey of experience and confidence in clinical procedures at the beginning and end of their intern year. Attendance at and the contribution to procedural confidence of a voluntary procedural skill-training programme were examined. Results: For the 314 interns, clinical experience before and during internship varied for each procedure and between year cohorts as did training programme attendance (44–84%). Student procedural confidence was predicted by pre-intern experience either on patients or by simulation (β = 0.17, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.02–0.21, P = 0.03) and age >30 years on commencing internship (β = 8.44, 95%CI 3.03–14.06, P = 0.003. Adjusted R2 = 0.08, P = 0.002). Intern procedural confidence by year's end was predicted by attendance at the training programme (β = 0.48, 95%CI 0.34–0.62, P < 0.001), intern experience with patient procedures (β = 0.34, 95%CI 0.21–0.47, P < 0.001) and a clear decision to enter a postgraduate training programme (β = 0.13, 95%CI 0.04–0.22, P = 0.007, Adjusted R2 = 0.50, P < 0.001). Conclusion: Interns and students receive variable experience to carry out procedural skills on patients. This makes designing training programmes difficult as training needs vary each year. Both mandatory supervision of key skills and opportunities to supplement limited experience are needed during the intern year to ensure a uniform experience.