Context  The Australian Medical Council requires all accredited Australian medical schools to have specific admission and recruitment policies for Indigenous Australian students. However, there is no clear evidence about how these students can be retained through to graduation.

Objectives  This study aimed to explore the training experiences of Indigenous undergraduate medical students and their perceptions of the factors influencing their progression through training.

Methods  We used a qualitative methodology involving focus groups. All participants had successfully completed at least 1 year of the Bachelor of Medicine programme at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Results  Sixteen of 18 eligible students participated in the study. The factors that influence an Indigenous student’s progress through medical training are multi-faceted and inter-related and are associated with student support, course content and styles of learning, personal qualities (such as confidence and coping skills), discrimination and distinctive cultural issues pertinent to Indigenous students.

Conclusions  Both academic and non-academic factors affect the progression through training of Indigenous medical students. A number of individual and systemic interventions which actively encourage a range of support networks, increase confidence and coping skills, and reduce cultural clash by assertively addressing discrimination and stereotyping need to be introduced. The outcomes of this work may provide some guidance to medical schools engaged in implementing strategies to enrol and support Indigenous students.