Many observers of medicine have expressed concerns that new doctors are not as well prepared as they should be to meet society's expectations of them. To assist medical schools in their efforts to respond to these concerns, in January 1996 the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) established the Medical School Objectives Project (MSOP). The goal for the first phase of the project--which has been completed and is reported in this article--was to develop a consensus within the medical education community on the attributes that medical students should possess at the time of graduation, and to set forth learning objectives that can guide each medical school as it establishes objectives for its own program. Later reports will focus on the implementation phase of the MSOP. In this report, each of the four attributes agreed upon by a wide spectrum of medical educators is stated and explained, and then the learning objectives associated with the school's instilling of that attribute are stated. The first of the four attributes is that physicians must be altruistic. There are seven learning objectives, including the objective that before graduation, the student can demonstrate compassionate treatment of patients and respect for their privacy and dignity. The second attribute is that physicians must be knowledgeable; one of the six learning objectives is that the student can demonstrate knowledge of the normal structure and function of the body and of each of its major organ systems. The third attribute is that physicians must be skillful; one of the eleven learning objectives is that the student have knowledge about relieving pain and ameliorating the suffering of patients. The last attribute is that physicians must be dutiful; one of the six learning objectives is that the student have knowledge of the epidemiology of common maladies within a defined population, and the systematic approaches useful in reducing the incidence and prevalence of those maladies. The report ends by stating that (1) if a school's curriculum is shaped by the set of learning objectives presented in the report, the graduates will be well prepared to assume the limited patient care responsibilities expected of new residents and also will have begun to achieve the attributes needed to practice contemporary medicine; (2) schools should feel a sense of urgency in responding to the intent of the report; and (3) it is important to measure the outcomes of learning objectives, and better assessment methods should be developed, particularly ones to assess outcomes related to attitudes and values.