Since 1996, University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) have been established at Broken Hill, Mount Isa, Shepparton, Launceston, Whyalla, Alice Springs and Geraldton. Each UDRH is underpinned by Commonwealth funding for an initial period of 5 years. The role of the UDRHs is to contribute to an increase in the rural and remote health workforce through education and training programs, as well as a reduction in the health differentials between rural and urban people and between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. A strong population health focus involving partnerships between existing health providers in a targeted region and the university sector underpins their operation. While UDRHs have been established as a means of addressing a national workforce problem, their organisational arrangements with universities and local service providers vary widely, as does the program mix of activities in education, research service development, facilitation and advocacy. This article outlines some of the activities and progress of the UDRHs to date.