Medical residency education and the development of formalized training objectives in Canada have evolved continuously, especially with the introduction of the Canadian Medical Education Directions for Specialists (CanMEDS) competencies by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) in 1996. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of implementation of CanMEDS competencies in Canadian postgraduate dermatology training programs from the residents' perspective, a comprehensive national survey of all Canadian core dermatology residents was conducted in June 2004. One hundred percent of core (PGY3-5) dermatology residents across the country (n = 48) completed the survey. Forty eight percent of residents were familiar with the CanMEDS competencies. Within the CanMEDS framework, the competencies were felt to be taught adequately by the following proportion of residents: medical expert (78 %), professional (66 %), communicator (52 %), collaborator (48 %), health advocate (48 %), scholar (48 %), and manager (28 %), with notable differences based on the year of training. This is the first national Canadian survey examining dermatology postgraduate education from the residents' perspective with a focus on CanMEDS competencies. While the RCPSC CanMEDS project implementation is presently in the faculty development phase, further work must be accomplished to enhance awareness of CanMEDS competencies and to incorporate these into dermatology residency programs across the country. Particular targeting of the roles perceived to be poorly taught is needed.