Stress symptoms, burnout and suicidal thoughts in Finnish physicians were studied using a questionnaire. The questionnaire, containing 99 questions or groups of questions, was mailed to 3,496 physicians representative, as regards age, sex, specialization and employment, of all active physicians in Finland. Altogether, 2,671 physicians (76%) responded. Stress symptoms in male physicians were similar to those in male managers. In female physicians they were slightly less than in female white-collar workers. In male specialists highest burnout indices were found in general practice and occupational health; psychiatry and child psychiatry; internal medicine, oncology, pulmonary diseases, and dermatology and venereology. In female specialists they occurred in general practice and occupational health; radiology; internal medicine, neurology, pulmonary diseases, and dermatology and venereology. Non-specialists had higher burnout scores than specialists for both sexes. Highest burnout scores in both men and women occurred in those working in municipal health centres. Lowest scores occurred in those working in private practice, universities, research institutes, and public offices and organizations. Suicidal intent tended to be commoner in physicians than in the general population. It was also commoner in female (26%) than in male (22%) physicians. The results indicate a polarization between "higher burnout specialities", often dealing with chronically ill, incurable or dying patients (e.g. specialties such as oncology, pulmonary diseases and psychiatry), on the one hand and "lower burnout specialties", often dealing with curable diseases and favourable prognoses (e.g. specialties such as obstetrics and gynaecology, otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology), on the other.