Background: It has been widely reported that medical trainees experience situations with profound ethical implications during their clinical rotations. To address this, most U.S. medical schools include ethics curricula in their undergraduate programs. However, the contents of these curricula vary substantially. Our pilot study aimed to discover, from the students’ perspective, how ethics pedagogy prepares medical students for clerkship and what gaps might remain. Methods: This qualitative study organized focus groups of third- and fourth-year medical students. Participants recounted ethical concerns encountered during clerkship rotations and reflected on how their medical school ethics curriculum informed their responses to these scenarios. Transcripts of the focus-group sessions were analyzed using a grounded theory approach to identify common themes that characterized the students’ experiences. Results: While students’ accounts demonstrated a solid grasp of ethical theory and attunement to ethical concerns presented in the clinic, they also consistently evinced an inability to act on these issues given clerks’ particular position in a complex learning hierarchy. Students felt they received too little training in the role-specific application of medical ethics as clinical trainees. We found a desire among trainees for enhanced practical ethics training in preparation for the clerkship phase of medical education. Conclusion: We recommend several strategies that can begin to address these findings. The use of roleplaying with standardized patients can enable students to practice engagement with ethical issues. Conventional ethics courses can focus more on action-based pedagogy and instruction in conflict management techniques. Finally, clear structures for reporting and seeking advice and support for addressing ethical issues can lessen students’ apprehension about acting on ethical concerns.