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The ability and confidence of clinical medical students to insert endotracheal tubes correctly and quickly and to recognize oesophageal misplacement was evaluated. Ten (33%) of the medical students intubated the trachea correctly at their first attempt but 14 (47%) incorrectly identified the position of the endotracheal tube. However, recognition improved by their second and third attempts (70% and 80% respectively). Ninety-three percent of students intubated correctly on their third attempt. Although medical students can obtain better results at correct tube placement with repeated attempts under optimum conditions--a practice effect--and do better at recognizing correct tube placement there is still a persistent failure to recognize endotracheal tube misplacement, ie oesophageal intubation. It is the ability to recognize oesophageal intubation promptly that is a life-saving skill. This essential skill should be taught during the introductory anaesthesia programme through the use of clinical patients.