OBJECTIVE: To report on the sentiments of the Australian health and medical research (HMR) workforce on issues related to employment and funding opportunities. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: In August 2006, the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) invited all of its members to participate in an online survey. The survey took the form of a structured questionnaire that focused on career aspirations, career development and training opportunities, attitudes toward moving overseas to work, and employment conditions for medical researchers. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Researchers' views on career opportunities, funding opportunities, salary and quality of the working environment; impact of these views on retaining a skilled medical research workforce in Australia. RESULTS: Of the 1258 ASMR members, 379 responded (30% response rate). Ninety-six per cent of respondents were currently based in Australia; 70% had a PhD or equivalent; and 58% were women. Most respondents worked at hospital research centres (37%), independent research institutes (28%) or university departments (24%). Sixty-nine per cent had funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, with the remainder funded by other sources. Over the previous 5 years, 6% of respondents had left active research and 73% had considered leaving. Factors influencing decisions about whether to leave HMR included shortage of funding (91%), lack of career development opportunities (78%) and poor financial rewards (72%). Fifty-seven per cent of respondents were directly supported by grants or fellowships, with only 16% not reliant on grants for their continuing employment; 62% believed that funding had increased over the previous 5 years, yet only 30% perceived an increase in employment opportunities in HMR. Among the respondents, twice as many men as women held postgraduate qualifications and earned >or= dollars 100 000 a year. CONCLUSIONS: Employment insecurity and lack of funding are a cause of considerable anxiety among Australian health and medical researchers. This may have important implications for the recruitment and retention of researchers.