Objective: Like many other medical education bodies, the Health Professions Council of South Africa has advocated changes in the education and training of medical practitioners. The suggested reform includes early clinical exposure in a range of settings. Early in the design of Curriculum 2001, a problem-based learning programme, health care visits in Year 1 were considered essential. Since the student population was diverse in many aspects, including age, it was necessary to evaluate whether students were prepared for the early exposure. Methods: Data on the impact of the health care visits were collected directly through a survey administered towards the end of the academic year and indirectly from student comments regarding their most rewarding experiences during the year. Results: Responses to survey items indicated that students were generally prepared for their health care visits and gave them insights into the activities of a medical practitioner. Sixty-nine per cent of students indicated that aspects of their health care visits, particularly the labour ward and an ambulance duty where many had hands-on experience, were their most rewarding experiences. Discussion and Conclusions: The decision of curriculum organisers to introduce students to patients in Year 1 of the new PBL curriculum was well received. Despite their young age, many students believed that they were psychologically prepared for this exposure. For many, it was the highlight of their academic year, often reinforcing their original desire to study medicine and allowing them to experience the real world of medicine.