Surface anatomy is an integral part of medical education and enables medical students to learn skills for future medical practice. In the past decade, there has been a decline in the teaching of anatomy in the medical curriculum, and this study seeks to assess the attitudes of medical students to participation in surface anatomy classes. Consequently, all first year medical students at the Guy's, King's and St Thomas's Medical School, London, were asked to fill in an anonymous questionnaire at the end of their last surface anatomy session of the year. A total of 290 medical students completed the questionnaires, resulting in an 81.6% response rate. The students had a mean age of 19.6 years (range 18–32) and 104 (35.9%) of them were male. Seventy-six students (26.2%) were subjects in surface anatomy tutorials (60.5% male). Students generally volunteered because no one else did. Of the volunteers, 38.2% would rather not have been subjects, because of embarrassment, inability to make notes, or to see clearly the material being taught. Female medical students from ethnic minority groups were especially reluctant to volunteer to be subjects. Single-sex classes improved the volunteer rate to some extent, but not dramatically. Students appreciate the importance of surface anatomy to cadaveric study and to future clinical practice. Computer models, lectures, and videos are complementary but cannot be a substitute for peer group models, artists' models being the only alternative. Clin. Anat. 19:627–631, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.