Background The humanities have long been shown to play an important role in the medical school curriculum. However, few studies have looked into the opinions of medical students on the usefulness and necessity of the humanities as well as their extracurricular involvement with them. The aim of this study was to: a) understand medical students’ attitude towards the humanities in medical education and b) assess their understanding of the necessary qualities of doctors and how interaction with the humanities affects the development of such attributes. Methods A mixed methods survey was designed to elicit demographics, engagement, interest and perspective on curricular positioning, and to explore how students ranked the qualities of a doctor. It was distributed to medical students of all year groups in the 6-year bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS) course at Imperial College London. Results 109 fully completed questionnaires were received. No significant difference was found in engagement or interest in the humanities between genders. Students felt strongly that humanities subjects shouldn’t be assessed (71:18) though some felt it was necessary for engagement, while no consensus was reached on whether these subjects should be elective or not (38:31). The majority of students wanted more medical humanities to be incorporated into the traditional medical course with a preference of incorporation into the first 3 years. Junior medical students were more likely to rank empathy as a highly desirable attribute than senior students. Students provided qualitative insights into curricular positioning, assessment and value. Conclusions This study provides the perspective of medical students on how and whether the humanities should be positioned in medical education. It may be helpful to medical schools that are committed to student involvement in curriculum design.