Transbronchial needle aspiration (TBNA) is a valuable, minimally invasive procedure for diagnosing and staging lung cancer in patients, but it is underutilized by practicing pulmonologists. To assess the approach to TBNA of current pulmonary Fellows, we recorded their computerized interactive responses during the 1995 American College of Chest Physicians Fellows' Conference. Among 109 Fellows attending, only 10% reported that they routinely (> or = 85% of cases) performed TBNA to diagnose or stage malignant disease, and 40% noted that they rarely (< or = 5% of cases) performed it. They estimated their diagnostic TBNA yields in patients with mediastinal cancer as follows: > or = 80% by 2% of Fellows; between 25% and 80% by 54% of Fellows; and < 25% by 45% of Fellows. They noted that the main limitations of TBNA at their institutions were suboptimal bronchoscopy technique (30%), technician support (1%), cytopathology support (14%), all of these factors (25%), or the belief that TBNA is not useful (30%). TBNA is currently underutilized and/or underemphasized at bronchoscopy training programs. Major modifications of Fellow experiences are necessary if TBNA is to impact optimally on patient management.