OBJECTIVE: to explore the influence that clinical placements have on career intentions for undergraduate midwifery students. DESIGN: a qualitative approach involving a combination of focus group and individual interviews. SETTING: the study was part of a larger study undertaken across a range of health disciplines within one university. PARTICIPANTS: 11 Bachelor of Midwifery students who had either undertaken their first or last clinical placement. FINDINGS: data were managed with QSR NVivo and analysis was influenced by the work of Strauss and Corbin. Two main themes emerged: midwifery as a career choice and future midwifery career. Findings indicated that students entered the course with preconceived ideas of midwifery and where they would practice after graduation. Clinical placements allowed students to experience the reality of midwifery practice, promote identification with the profession, and influenced decision-making about future careers. Finally, it raised limitations placed on diversity of available clinical experience. KEY CONCLUSIONS: clinical placements are essential for midwifery preparation. They challenge students' preconceived ideas about midwifery practice and assist them to develop perspectives on, and directions for, their future careers. The diversity and quality of placement experience plays a significant role in career decision-making and employment choices. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: positive placement experiences influence where students will choose to work after graduation. These experiences can directly influence the organisations and clinical areas chosen by students for graduate practice.