Background The aim of the study was to ascertain the use of declarations of ethical commitment made by medical students graduating from the final-year class of 2006 in Australia and New Zealand, the extent of student contribution to the process and the manner in which those declarations were declared. Methods Information was obtained, by telephone interview and email, from officers or responsible academic staff of faculties of medicine (or medicine and health sciences) in Australia and New Zealand. Results Of 20 medical faculties in Australia and New Zealand, seven were established recently and are yet to graduate students. Thirteen faculties graduated medical students in 2006 and students in 10 of those faculties made declarations on graduating. Of those, six faculties consulted with students in formulating and/or in deciding on the declaration and four gave students major responsibility for writing the declaration. Three faculties invited graduating students to modify the declaration each year. Students in two of those faculties had done so on occasion and, in the third, they had rewritten the declaration each year. Conclusion An increasing proportion of faculties of medicine in Australia and New Zealand provide for a declaration of ethical values on graduating. We emphasize educational opportunities for reinforcing these values by encouraging students to formulate their 'own' declaration, modify the declaration each year, read the declaration in a formal ceremony and by presenting graduating students with a plaque or printed declaration suitable for framing, which is signed by the Dean and graduating student.