While 'public health medicine' is a specialised field, most medical practitioners practice 'public health' to some extent, e.g., undertaking preventative screening tests or advising individuals about lifestyle interventions. While requirements to demonstrate capability in public health are common to medical education around the world, medical programs face a challenge to integrate public health education and promote health advocacy in an environment where the doctor: patient relationship is at the core of learning. Students who spend part of their medical education working within general practice or community settings have an opportunity to observe and identify issues of public health importance, and to see how they impact at both a personal and a population level. This paper aims to illustrate how a year-long research project can provide an opportunity for medical students to learn about public health issues and methods to investigate them. Analysis was undertaken of the research topics chosen by eight successive cohorts of medical students, representing 519 students, who successfully completed a research project. Over half of the student research projects (51.8%) directly related to Australian national health priority areas of dementia, obesity, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, asthma, diabetes, mental health, injury prevention and control, cardiovascular health and cancer control, and a further 28.5% of projects had a specific public health focus, within domains that include lifestyles and health, communicable disease, and healthy growth and development. Researching public health topics in the community setting represents a practical way to engage medical students in learning about public health, and can help to develop their potential to become 'clinician researchers', investigating and understanding issues relevant to their communities.