The principles of and experience with a family study and survey undertaken by first-year medical students are reported. The family study is based on the observations made by pairs of students on a selected family, which includes a pregnant mother, in the Newcastle upon Tyne area. These observations include the family context, the pregnancy, the early development of the new-born baby, and the use of health and other services. The family survey records and analyses relevant data on the collective group of selected families. The family study acts as a preparation for clinical understanding by emphasizing the individual or family view. In addition, students learn that the collective epidemiological approach provided by the survey can guide the clinical impression gained from the observational study, yet each individual and family remains unique. An early opportunity is therefore provided for students to explore and integrate these two approaches.