Following a comprehensive study of the role models identified by the first five years of students in a traditional medical programme, it was hypothesized that with curriculum reform clinical role models would assume greater importance earlier in the undergraduate medical programme. Indeed, when compared with their first- and second-year traditional curriculum colleagues, more problem-based learning students identified role models. Almost four times as many identified faculty role models (largely medically qualified) in comparison with their traditional curriculum counterparts. Concomitant with this increase was a decline in the selection by the PBL students of family members, friends and other students as role models. For all cohorts, however, the mother was the most important role model. Since students in integrated curricula have earlier clinical experience and patient contact, they interact with clinicians in hospitals and clinics as well as in the academic environment of the small-group tutorial and lecture theatres. Academic faculty members, particularly clinicians, need to be aware that students take note of their attitudes and behaviour as members of the medical profession, a profession that students had chosen as a career. Retraining of senior doctors from the traditional curriculum might be necessary to ensure that all clinicians have an equivalent understanding of patient care.