Background: Academically bright and ambitious medical students must cope with a combination of curriculum, assessment, career choice, personal, family and social pressures. Many seek support, and some present complex problems that consume substantial resources. A few continue unresolved into postgraduate life and may affect future professional performance. Early intervention may be helpful in minimising the impact on both individual students and school resources. Aim: To develop a broad classification framework for personal problems presented by medical students to student support services. Methods: We report a study of more complex student problems presenting to student support services. A three stage iterative process, involving student support faculty from several international medical schools, discussed case scenarios based on pooled experience and developed a framework for categorising and considering management. Results: Seven profiles of student problems were developed, based on composites of unidentified cases drawn from participants' experiences, reflecting: immaturity; learning skills; organisational skills; health or personal issues and poor insight. Broad characteristics and brief prognostic comments are provided for each profile. Discussion: While profiles may overlap and each student may have a unique set of issues, there appears to be similarities that allow some categorisation for management strategies and prognostic features in both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. Further work is needed to develop 'diagnostic' assessments that might guide intervention. Conclusion: This classification may assist early intervention into personal problems presented by medical students to student support services.