To evaluate the accuracy of central venous pressure (CVP) assessment in critically ill patients, and measure disagreement amongst clinicians, 50 consecutive intensive care unit (ICU) patients with right internal jugular catheters were examined. CVP was measured by the indwelling catheter, and was assessed by: (1) one of three ICU staff physicians, (2) one of six medical residents, and (3) one of six medical students. There was no significant difference in CVP assessment between medical students, residents, and staff physicians. Although all clinicians tended to underestimate CVP, only the residents did so significantly (p less than 0.05). Sensitivity and specificity, and agreement and correlation between the clinicians' assessment and catheter measurements were higher when ventilated patients were excluded. All clinicians agreed more often and were better at identifying low CVP. In summary, considerable disagreement and inaccuracy exists in the clinical assessment of central venous pressure in critically ill patients.