CONTEXT Arts subjects are often included in medical school curricula to facilitate the exploration of non-scientific elements of medicine, such as communication, social, political, emotional and spiritual issues. However, little research has reported on students' experience of arts teaching. Performing Medicine is a programme created by the Clod Ensemble theatre company in collaboration with Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University, London. Professional artists run a range of workshops exploring issues relating to health care and work to develop students' professional skills in self-presentation, observation, communication, self-care and their understanding of difference. This article presents an analysis of student-written material about Performing Medicine. METHODS A dataset of written student materials (reflections and feedback), drawn from three academic years (2006-2009), was analysed using the qualitative methods of thematic analysis and word frequency analysis. RESULTS Five prevalent themes were identified: (i) Acting like a doctor; (ii) Developing broader awareness of others; (iii) The self in focus; (iv) The art of communication, and (v) A place for arts-based teaching within the medical curriculum. The corpus linguistic analysis confirmed and elaborated on the five themes found in the thematic analysis. CONCLUSIONS Students generally felt that arts teaching made a valuable contribution to the medical curriculum. Many felt the training would reduce `performance anxiety' in situations such as examinations, presentations and new placements. Group work developed camaraderie and students enjoyed the opportunity to learn new skills through creative writing, theatre and movement sessions. Some sessions developed students' ability to engage with and relate to people from very different backgrounds than their own.