Background. The eight main Vietnamese medical schools recently cooperated to produce a book listing the knowledge, attitudes and skills expected of a graduate, including specification of the required level for each skill. The teaching program should ensure that students can reach that level. The objective of this study was to determine the perception of graduating students on whether they had achieved the level set for a selection of clinical and public health skills as a guide for the schools to adjust either the levels or the teaching. Methods. From all eight schools, 1136 of the 1528 final year students completed questionnaires just before completed all the requirements for graduation, a response rate of 87% overall (ranging from 74-99% per school). They rated their own competence on a scale of 0-5 for 129 skills selected from the 557 skills listed in the book, and reported where they thought they had learned them. The scores that the students gave themselves were then compared to the levels proposed by the teachers for each skill. The proportions of the self-assessed achievement to the levels expected by the teachers, means self-assessed scores and the coefficients of variation were calculated to make comparisons among disciplines, among schools and among learning sites. Results. Most students felt they had learned most of the skills for key clinical departments to the required level; this varied little among the schools. Self-assessed skill acquisition in public health and minor clinical disciplines was lower and varied more. Sites outside the classroom were especially important for learning skills. The results revealed key similarities and differences between the teachers and the students in their perception about what could be learned and where. Conclusion. Revising a curriculum for medical schools demands inputs from all stakeholders. Graduating class students can provide valuable feedback on what they have learned in the existing system. Learning objectives should always be checked with students who have followed their study under existing teaching conditions. The information from the graduates helped to identify potential problem areas where either the objectives or the teaching need adjustment. © 2008 Hoat et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.