Despite their rising numbers in the National Health Service (NHS), the recruitment, retention, morale and educational needs of staff and associate specialist hospital doctors have traditionally not been the focus of attention. A postal survey of all staff grades and associate specialists in NHS Scotland was conducted to investigate the determinants of their job satisfaction. Doctors in both grades were least satisfied with their pay. They were more satisfied if they were treated as equal members of the clinical team, but less satisfied if their workload adversely affected the quality of patient care. With the exception of female associate specialists, respondents who wished to become a consultant were less satisfied with all aspects of their jobs. Associate specialists who worked more sessions also had lower job satisfaction. Non-white staff grades were less satisfied with their job compared with their white counterparts. It is important that associate specialists and staff grades are promoted to consultant posts, where this is desired. It is also important that job satisfaction is enhanced for doctors who do not desire promotion, thereby improving retention. This could be achieved through improved pay, additional clinical training, more flexible working hours and improved status.