BACKGROUND: A number of studies have highlighted the importance of positive role models and mentors in influencing medical students' ultimate career decisions. This article sought to review the relevant literature in relation to mentors and role models in surgery.DATA SOURCES: A comprehensive PubMed search of the literature on the subject of role models and mentors was performed using the following keywords: "Mentors," "Mentorship," and "Role Models" alone and in conjunction with the words "medicine" and "surgery."CONCLUSIONS: This article defines the terms role model and mentor and highlights the differences between these. It identifies the importance of early intervention in medical students' careers by surgeons and the possibility of junior doctors acting as mentors. Formal mentoring programs appear to be associated with greater satisfaction among surgical trainees regarding mentorship. In addition, this review serves to show the potential approaches to developing mentorship and role models in surgery. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.