BACKGROUND: The most effective treatment for traumatic injuries is to prevent them from occurring. Currently, few surgeons receive any formal training in injury control and prevention. This study was designed to test the knowledge of injury prevention principles among practicing surgeons, in order to identify areas in need of intensified educational efforts. STUDY DESIGN: Survey questions designed by members of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma were programmed into a specialized touch-screen computer, which was displayed at four different surgery and trauma meetings, including the ACS Clinical Congress in 1999 and 2000. Participants were questioned about their knowledge of trauma epidemiology, bicycle helmet effectiveness, child safety seat usage, suicide, and domestic violence. RESULTS: Seventy-nine surveys were completed by surgeons, including 33 specializing in trauma care, and by 106 nurses attending trauma courses. Overall, the percentage of correct answers was 50%. There were no significant differences in survey scores between trauma surgeons and general surgeons, although both scored higher than trauma nurses. Areas where knowledge deficits were the most apparent included proper use of child safety seats, the effectiveness of airbags, the prevalence of suicide, and the annual cost of injury in America. CONCLUSIONS: The majority of practicing surgeons and nurses, including those working at trauma centers, are unaware of the basic concepts of injury prevention. Advancements in the field of injury control will require efforts to educate medical professionals and the public.