Background: Access to rural health services is compromised in many countries including Australia due to workforce shortages. The issues that consequently impact on equity of access and sustainability of rural and remote health services are complex. Discussion: The purpose of this paper is to describe a number of approaches from the literature that could form the basis of a more integrated approach to health workforce and rural health service enhancement that can be supported by policy. A case study is used to demonstrate how such an approach could work. Summary: Disjointed health services are common in rural areas due to the 'tyranny of distance.' Recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural areas and access to and sustainability of rural health services is therefore compromised. Strategies to address these issues tend to have a narrow focus. An integrated approach is needed to enhance rural workforce and health services; one that develops, acknowledges and accounts for social capital and social relations within the rural community.