BACKGROUND: Clinical teachers have been exhorted to "return to the bedside" so that the three critical parties-teacher, trainee, and patient-can participate together in the educational encounter. The presence of the patient is deemed essential for the optimal demonstration and observation of physical examination, medical interviewing, and interpersonal skills, as well as role-modeling professional and humanistic behavior. METHODS: This essay reviews the challenges inherent in bedside teaching and proposes strategies to enhance both the effectiveness and efficiency of such teaching. RESULTS: Practical suggestions are provided regarding teaching issues (time constraints, group accommodation, selectivity, demonstration, observation, case presentations), learning climate for both teacher and learners, hospital and patient barriers, and selected other issues. CONCLUSIONS: Despite changes in the clinical setting and financing of medical education, patient-centered teaching will remain essential to the training of future clinicians. Techniques described in this paper can be useful in facilitating such bedside teaching.