BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that much of the medical and midwifery student curricula on normal pregnancy and birth could be taught as a co-operative effort between obstetric and midwifery staff. One important element of a successful combined teaching strategy would involve a determination of the extent to which the students themselves identify common learning objectives. AIM: The aim of the present study was to survey medical and midwifery students about how they perceived their respective learning roles on the delivery suite. METHODS: A descriptive cross-sectional survey study was undertaken. The study venue was an Australian teaching and tertiary referral hospital in obstetrics and gynaecology Survey participants were medical students who had just completed a 10 week clinical attachment in obstetrics and gynaecology during the 5th year of a six year undergraduate medical curriculum and midwifery students undertaking a one year full-time (or two year part-time) postgraduate diploma in midwifery. RESULTS: Of 130 and 52 questionnaires distributed to medical and midwifery students, response rates of 72% and 52% were achieved respectively The key finding was that students reported a lesser role for their professional colleagues than they identified for themselves. Some medical students lacked an understanding of the role of midwives as 8%, 10%, and 23% did not feel that student midwives should observe or perform a normal birth or neonatal assessment respectively. Of equal concern, 7%, 22%, 26% and 85% of student midwives did not identify a role for medical students to observe or perform a normal birth, neonatal assessment or provide advice on breastfeeding respectively. SUMMARY: Medical and midwifery students are placed in a competitive framework and some students may not understand the complementary role of their future colleagues. Interdisciplinary teaching may facilitate co-operation between the professions and improve working relationships.