OBJECTIVE To explore factors which affect newly qualified doctors' wellbeing and look at the implications for educational provision. METHODS Data were collected by free association narrative interviews of nine Foundation doctors and analysed using a grounded theory approach. Two Foundation programme directors were interviewed to verify data validity. RESULTS Two main themes emerged: newly qualified doctors' wellbeing is affected by 1) personal experience and 2) work related factors. They start work feeling unprepared by medical school, work experience ("shadowing") or induction programmes at the beginning of the post. Senior colleague support and feedback are much valued but often lacking with little discussion of critical incidents and difficult issues. Challenges include sick patients, prescribing, patient/relative communication and no consistent team structure. Working shift patterns affects personal and social life. Enjoyment and reward come from helping patients, feelings of making a difference or teaching medical students. CONCLUSIONS Whilst becoming familiar with their roles, newly qualified doctors search for identity and build up resilience. The support given during this process affects their wellbeing including coping with day to day challenges, whether posts are experienced as rewarding and how work influences their personal and social lives.