American physicians are frustrated, feel pessimistic about their profession's future - and more than half would retire today if they could.

These gloomy findings come from a national survey of thousands of doctors.

The Physicians Foundation surveyed more than 13,000 doctors, asking them how they feel about their work, their role, and health care in the U.S.

The survey found that morale is low, very low.

"Physicians are disillusioned, disaffected and disengaging from the medical practice environment," said retired pediatrician Dr. Walker Ray, who chairs the research committee for the Physicians Foundation.

According to the survey, "77 percent of physicians said that they were somewhat or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession; 84 percent agreed that the medical profession is in decline; and 58 percent would not recommend medicine as a career to young people or their own children," continued Ray.

More than half of doctors, younger and older, said they would retire today if they could. The survey found the top pains for physicians are lawsuits and defensive medicine pressures, followed by dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and health-insurance companies. They're also tired of excessive paperwork and not enough time to see patients.

The field of medicine is in flux, which creates a lot of uncertainty, says Steven Sivak, chairman of medicine at Einstein Healthcare Network.

"We are right now right in between the old way of doing business in medicine and the new way of doing business in medicine," explained Sivak. "The new way is known as accountable care and that takes many forms.

"We are stuck right in the middle, and we are all challenged on how are we going to get from where we are to where we need to be."

Fifty-nine percent of doctors surveyed said that health-care reform made them feel less optimistic about the future, one of the reasons being that malpractice reform wasn't part of it.

The Physicians Foundation says a massive exodus is looming, as physicians plan to retire early, find new opportunities, or start working part time.

Generally speaking, Sivak said he remains optimistic.

"Fast-forward 10 years, I think things will be better," he said. "But I think the next 10 years will be very tumultuous."

Sivak, who says physician turnover at Einstein is low, credits a shared mission and strong teamwork for that retention rate.