Globally, health workforce shortages in rural and remote areas significantly affect the capability of health systems, both public and private, to deliver their services. Regional and national governments and academic and professional bodies have been active in attempting to address the situation. This paper overviews the extensive human resources literature on recruitment and retention. Findings are contrasted with recent Australian and international research literature investigating health workforce issues. The context of rural health service delivery, workforce issues and recruitment and retention strategies implemented are discussed. Recruitment and retention issues for the rural and remote health workforce would be well understood if human resources knowledge was applied to the problem. However, few retention strategies were identified other than for general practitioners and no analyses of their effectiveness could be found. Health employers need to use the body of knowledge developed in the business sector to implement recruitment and retention strategies consistently, evaluate them and report the findings. 'Silos'created by a sector or discipline-specific approach can be broken down by seeking knowledge from a number of disciplines. Health research can then focus on developing models of healthcare that address professional and community needs.