Role models have long been considered important in training medical students in the professional and ethical values of medicine. This report discusses role models identified by South African medical students in Year 1-5 of their study in a traditional programme. Most students considering having a role model important. As students progressed, faculty role models were more likely to be selected. A parent (the mother, in particular) or parent were, however, most frequently identified as role models by all students. Attributes ascribed to parents as role models (caring, sympathetic, self-sacrificing) are similar to those considered desirable for professional role models in medicine. These findings are considered in the light of global medical training and the need for faculties to provide appropriate role models for students.