The influence of a role model is a frequently cited factor in choosing a specialty choice among medical students, particularly primary care oriented students. While many studies have looked at role modeling from students' perspectives, very few have considered role modeling characteristics from the perspective of the role models. This study, using the principles of Bandura's social learning theory, determined and illuminated the characteristics and teaching methods associated with positive role modeling in clinical education from the perspective of the role model. A qualitative approach employing interviews and observations was used. Five themes emerged: the role models' approaches to teaching, their attitudes towards teaching and learning, their emphasis on clinical competence in their teaching, their roles external to their specific responsibilities, and their general affect. We found that role models were similar in their views of teaching and working with students. Also, their teaching characteristics were similar to the recommended approaches found in the literature and adhered to the principles of social learning theory. Role models were attentive to the needs of the students and tailored their teaching appropriately. They provided students with ample patient interaction so that students could apply their classroom knowledge. They also demonstrated how rewarding being an effective physician can be.