BACKGROUND: Suicide rates are higher in certain educational groups. The highest rates are generally found in the medical and allied professions, but the empirical evidence for high suicide rates may be questionable. This study compares the rate of suicide among trained physicians, dentists, nurses, police officers and theologians with the rate among other university graduates and the general population according to sex, age and time period. METHOD: Census data from 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990 relating to education were linked to suicide as cause of death data from Statistics Norway, and followed up for the period 1960-2000, comprising 46 and 49 million person-years among men and women respectively. RESULTS: Physicians still have a higher rate compared with other graduates and the general population, both among males [43.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 35.3-52.5] and females (26.1, 95% CI 15.1-44.9). Suicide rates increased steeply by age among physicians and other graduates, whereas for non-graduates the rate was highest in the 40-60 years age group. The suicide rate among female nurses was also elevated, whereas police officers seemed to have an intermediate suicide risk. The rate among theologians was low (7.0, 95% CI 2.9-16.9). The suicide rates in the 1990s were significantly lower than in the 1980s. CONCLUSIONS: The high suicide rates among physicians and elderly graduates are of concern. The reasons why graduates are more vulnerable than others when getting older and the low rate among theologians warrant further study.