Violence against hospital personnel is underreported (less than one in five assaults), and accurate statistics as to the rate of violence against hospital personnel are thus difficult to establish. In the psychiatric discipline, an abundance of information has been published regarding violence in the health care setting, but few studies have examined violence outside psychiatric hospitals or by patients not diagnosed with psychiatric ailments. Using a survey that elicits information about workplace violence, we sought to gauge the prevalence of violent acts affecting general hospital workers who treat victims of violence on a daily basis. The survey was completed by a cohort of surgical staff nationwide (475 responses from 57 residency programs). Two hundred and eighty residents reported having witnessed one or more physical attacks, and 179 reported having been attacked. Violent acts were more likely to be committed in a public hospital than a private institution (P = 0.05). As shown in previous research, most attacks occurred in the emergency room (P = 0.01); the wards and parking lot were next in frequency. Women residents were more likely than men to call hospital security to intervene in a potentially violent situation (P = 0.04), and junior residents (postgraduate years 1-4) were more likely to be attacked than senior residents (> or = 5 years) (P = 0.04). The attacker was most likely to be a young black male between ages 19 and 30 (P = 0.01). We found no statistical relationship between the attacker and the victim regarding sex or race. Of the 475 respondents, 470 reported that they carry a gun themselves or know someone in the hospital environment who carries a gun.