BACKGROUND: Physicians' satisfaction with their professional life influences the quality of patient care they provide and helps to determine the number and type of students attracted to the various fields of medicine. In South Korea, two decades have passed already since the introduction of family medicine. But, S. Korean health policy has not developed a strong plan to control a high medical cost and ineffective utilization of medical resourees. Additionaly, the number of students applying for family medicine is less than that for internal medicine or pediatrics. The purpose of this study was to delineate factors relating to professional satisfaction among family physicians in South Korea. METHODS: The subjects were 840 family physicians who had been trained formally and registered to the Korean Academy of Family Physicians. The self-administered questionnaires were collected by three mailings during March 18 to May 24 in 1998. RESULTS: Completed questionnaires were received from 404 South Korean family physicians. With respect to income, there showed 'satisfaction' in 31.4%, 'middle' 47%, and 'dissatisfaction' 20.5% (no response 1.0%). Three periods of certification acquisition(P=0.001), four practice types(P=0.005), and three degrees of training satisfaction(P=0.003) had significantly different degrees of satisfaction. In the aspect of pride as a family physician, there showed 'high' in 42.1%, 'middle' 45.8%, and 'low' 10.9%(no response 1.2%). In the aspect of future view as a family physician, there showed 'bright' in 40.6%, 'middle' 40.6%, and 'dark' 17.6% (no response 1.2%). After confounding variables were controlled, practice types (faculty family physicians rather than private practitioners) (P=0.030), the degree of training satisfaction(P=0.0001, positive relationship), and the number of patients encountered per an hour(P=0.0098, positive relationship) were significant variables of the degree of general professional satisfaction. CONCLUSION: Though standard measure of professional satisfaction have not been developed, this survey result seems to help understand factors relating to professional satisfaction of S. Korean family physicians. This information may be useful in the development of policy to structure a primary care oriented health care system in S. Korea.