Objectives: The Rural Support Network (RSN) is an undergraduate student society that aims to raise awareness among the student body of the plight of rural health in South Africa, and organises individual and group placements in rural hospitals during vacations. This research aimed to evaluate these placements from the students’ perspectives. Design: In-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 10 students and nine placement-reflective reports were reviewed. The data were analysed and coded for key themes using a constant, comparative grounded theory approach. Setting: Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the University of Cape Town. Subjects: Students who had been on RSN placements in 2010. Results: Students reported that the experience exceeded their expectations of learning new skills and observing and performing procedures. They gained significant insights into rural health care and were inspired to contribute to rural health in future. Their experiences helped them to gain confidence and an appreciation of the psycho-social aspects of patient care. The importance of community empowerment and of connecting and building relationships with communities was also emphasised. Challenges pertained to conflict within groups, incidents of unprofessional health care and being unable to help as much as they would have liked. Conclusion: The study highlights the impact that positive experiences of rural health may have on health science students’ interest in, passion for, and commitment to practising in underserved rural areas. Students’ key recommendations for the FHS included the development of a rural programme within the undergraduate curriculum. Better group composition and improved planning and co-ordination of placements by the RSN were also recommended.