Although excellence in the clinical care of patients is the cornerstone of medicine, academic health sciences centers have increasingly given more weight to research and correspondingly less emphasis to patient care. To better recognize and reward clinical excellence, it is first necessary to effectively evaluate physicians' performances in patient care. In addition to addressing the value of faculty clinical excellence in the academic setting, the authors discuss different approaches to clinical assessment, theoretical and practical problems in assessing the performances of clinical faculty, and a system of evaluation being initiated at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. This system of evaluation combines--in annual individual reviews--a limited amount of objective assessment data with subjective evaluations from several sources. The objective data include board certification and recertification, analysis of outcomes data, and documentation of scholarly activity. The subjective evaluations include letters of recognition and appreciation from faculty colleagues and written observations from department chairs, housestaff, students, and nurses. The system has been accepted by department chairs, members of the Promotion and Tenure Committee, and the general faculty. In implementing this new system, periodic review of the pace and direction of change will be crucial to track progress and provide feedback for further modification.