Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be pathologised in medical curriculum, leaving graduates feeling unequipped to effectively work cross-culturally. These factors create barriers to culturally safe health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In this pilot pre-post study, the learning experiences of seven medical students and four medical registrars undertaking clinical placements at an urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary healthcare service in 2014 were followed. Through analysis and comparison of pre- and post-placement responses to a paper-based case study of a fictitious Aboriginal patient, four learning principles for medical professionalism were identified: student exposure to nuanced, complex and positive representations of Aboriginal peoples; positive practitioner role modelling; interpersonal skills that build trust and minimise patient–practitioner relational power imbalances; and knowledge, understanding and skills for providing patient-centred, holistic care. Though not exhaustive, these principles can increase the capacity of practitioners to foster culturally safe and optimal health care for Aboriginal peoples. Furthermore, competence and effectiveness in Aboriginal health care is an essential component of medical professionalism.