Feelings and thoughts of medical students related to first patient experiences during the first clinical year were examined. Twenty-two volunteer third and fourth year medical students (15 women and 7 men) of the University of Helsinki participated in a portfolio course for 1 year. Their reflective learning diaries and writings on specific themes were analyzed by qualitative content analysis. First patient encounters were strong emotional experiences for medical students. The first patient examination was often described as an anxiety-provoking and confusing incident. Other emotionally significant encounters included helplessness when faced with serious illness and death, and role confusion when examining patients of one's own age but opposite sex. Students felt guilty for using patients for their own learning purposes. Portfolios as learning tools may help in recognizing key experiences and support professional development of medical students.