OBJECTIVE: Excellence is an important goal for all physicians. Unfortunately, it is hard to define, evaluate, and achieve. To provide a concise interpretive review of excellence in intensive care medicine, with a focus on those key characteristics that excellent physicians possess but are seldom discussed. DATA SOURCES: Electronic search of the PubMed database using the search terms "excellence," "role models," "compassion," "commitment," "dedication," and "passion." STUDY SELECTION: Publications or studies of excellence, role models, compassion, commitment, dedication, and passion. Two reviewers evaluated each term. DATA EXTRACTION: Publications or studies were abstracted independently and in duplicate. DATA SYNTHESIS: Excellence in critical care can be achieved through deliberate practice, feedback, and effective evaluation. Excellence embodies numerous characteristics, which include compassion, commitment, and passion. CONCLUSIONS: Awareness of the fundamental characteristics of excellence can help young students and doctors determine what they should strive for to become excellent physicians as well as encourage experienced doctors to rekindle the spark that initially motivated them to become physicians.