Clinical skills units offer exciting and innovative ways of learning about clinical skills. Links between theoretical knowledge and clinical practice are appropriate for both undergraduate and postgraduate training. Students and doctors can practice and acquire technical and examination skills in a standardised and protected environment without being concerned about the distress such learning may cause real patients. Models and simulators used in skills units are being developed to keep pace with demand, with a corresponding increase in standards of quality and durability. As undergraduate medical courses respond to the demands of modern clinical practice the use of such facilities will increase. This paper describes the functions of skills units and provides practical examples of educational strategies in use.