Objectives Despite a recognised need for richer narratives about academic medicine, much of the literature is limited to an analysis of the enablers and barriers associated with recruitment and retention, and focuses on analysing the development of research career pathways. We explored academic clinician-educators' experiences of entering into and navigating academic medicine, with a particular focus on those who privilege teaching above research. Methods Data were collected through interviews and focus groups conducted across a medical school at one Australian university. We used socio-cognitive career theory to provide theoretical insight into the factors that influence academic clinician-educators' interests, choice and motivations regarding entering and pursuing a teaching pathway within academic medicine. Framework analysis was used to illustrate key themes in the data. Results We identified a number of themes related to academic clinician-educators' engagement and performance within an academic medicine career focused on teaching. These include contextual factors associated with how academic medicine is structured as a discipline, cultural perceptions regarding what constitutes legitimate practice in academia, experiential factors associated with the opportunity to develop a professional identity commensurate with being an educator, and socialisation practices. Conclusions The emphasis on research in academia can engender feelings of marginalisation and lack of credibility for those clinicians who favour teaching over research. The prevailing focus on supporting and socialising clinicians in research will need to change substantially to facilitate the rise of the academic clinician-educator.