One in three doctors was assaulted, either physically or verbally, in the last year but most did not report it, research suggests.
BMA is concerned violence is seen as inevitable
One in 10 of the 591 doctors across Britain who responded to the British Medical Association said they had been physically attacked.
Of these, 5% were seriously injured, and a third suffered minor injuries.
However, the BMA said many did not report the incidents, suggesting an increasing acceptance of violence.
Physical assaults reported by doctors in England, Scotland and Wales included being punched, kicked, bitten and spat on.
Doctors said dissatisfaction with the service was the main reason cited for the attacks, including frustration with waiting times and being refused medication.
This has doubled as a cause of violence since 2003, when the BMA last conducted the survey.
ASSAULT BY PATIENT
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Fiona Blake, 51, suffered a broken nose when a seriously mentally ill male patient punched her in the face, and kicked her in a corridor at Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, in June 2006.
The man, who was later convicted of the attack, was apparently angry that Dr Blake would not discharge him.
She said. "He was very ill but I don't think he hit me because he was ill, but because he did not get what he wanted.
"It was a terrible shock and I questioned myself for weeks afterwards about whether I had made a misjudgment about him.
"When I came back to work I was more concerned to protect myself, to think about possible injury."
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: "These are worrying figures - both in terms of the potential numbers involved and the fact that so few doctors tend to report violence.
"We hope that this is not because they feel the problem is not being taken seriously.
"Ministers have repeatedly stated that there should be zero tolerance to violence of any sort in the NHS. We heartily agree.
"The mechanisms must be there to minimise the likelihood of attacks, to support staff who experience them, and to ensure that anyone who commits an act of violence is dealt with appropriately."
The survey found that female doctors were more likely to experience violence in the workplace than males (37% compared with 27%).
Junior doctors were the most likely to experience violence, followed by GPs.
Most doctors said they had not received any training on how to deal with violent patients and only one in 10 had access to a secure facility in which to treat such patients.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, currently going through Parliament, contains proposals to tackle nuisance behaviour on NHS hospital premises.
The BMA is seeking an amendment to the bill so that GP premises are also covered.
The NHS Security Management Service said it was working with the BMA to try to tackle the problem.
A spokesman said: "Violence and abuse against doctors is unacceptable.
"Like everyone providing NHS services, doctors deserve respect from those they care for."
He said the number of reported physical assaults against NHS staff in England had fallen in each year since 2004, and the number of criminal sanctions in assault cases had risen.
"But more needs to be done to tackle violence and we would urge doctors to report all incidents to the local security management specialist at their health body and to the police."