In order to describe the registrar population and to highlight their problems, a study using an anonymous questionnaire was conducted in August 1988 at the University of Cape Town Group of Teaching Hospitals. The average age of respondents was 32 years and the majority had family responsibilities (60% married, 41% with dependents). They had significant medical experience and postgraduate qualifications. Registrars work long hours (mean 66 +/- 13.7 h/wk), with duty shifts that can extend for up to 34 hours. Most of their time at work was devoted to patient care, with time for study and research virtually non-existent. Although the majority (61%) felt that the 'registrar experience' was worthwhile, a significant proportion of respondents (45%) had considered leaving the rotation. The study revealed several shortcomings that need to be addressed if candidates of good calibre are to be attracted, academic standards are to be maintained and sufficient specialists produced to serve the needs of our population adequately.