OBJECTIVES: The objectives of the present study are to investigate and compare the relative impact of workplace-related factors and personal characteristics on chronic psychosocial stress experience in young physicians. METHODS: In a prospective study, a cohort of Swiss medical school graduates was followed up, beginning in 2001. In their fourth and eighth year after graduation, 443 physicians assessed their workplace conditions, the experienced effort-reward imbalance, the received professional and emotional support as well as their personal characteristics. The chronic stress experience was measured by the Trier Inventory for the Assessment of Chronic Stress-Screening Subscale of Chronic Stress (TICS-SCSS), 7 years after graduation. The model of influencing factors on chronic stress experience was tested with a hierarchical regression analysis. RESULTS: The mean in chronic stress (TICS-SCSS) in our study sample is significantly higher (p < 0.001) compared to an age-matched population representative sample. In the prediction of chronic stress, the workplace-related factor effort-reward imbalance as well as the personal characteristic overcommitment turned out to be the most important risk factors. Stress protective are high satisfaction with career support, sense of coherence and occupational self-efficacy. The whole set of variables used in the regression model explains 51% of the variance of chronic stress experience. In the prediction of chronic stress, gender has no significant moderator effect. CONCLUSIONS: It is a matter of concern that young physicians report to feel chronically stressed early in their professional career. Actions have to be taken to reduce the stress level mainly in regard to re-establish reciprocity between perceived effort invested and rewards received, in the form of esteem, monetary gain and career opportunities including job security.