In Australia, mentoring is beginning to emerge on the rural and remote nursing landscape as a strategy to improve the recruitment and retention of nurses. However, the terminology used to discuss this and other supportive relationships in nursing is often unclear and can be confusing. The main aim of this article is to locate mentoring, clinical supervision and preceptoring in the nursing literature, and thus provide a guide for Australian rural nurse clinicians, managers and policy-makers in general. It is through better understanding of the possibilities of each type of relationship that they can be factored into the development of supportive work settings, and that will encourage the retention of existing staff and possibly the recruitment of new staff. Each type of supportive relationship discussed in the literature has a different focus. Mentoring is broadly based and concentrates on developing areas such as career progression, scholarly achievements and personal development. Clinical supervision focuses on progressing clinical practice through reflection and the provision of professional guidance and support. Preceptorship focuses on clinical skill acquisition and socialisation. Each support relationship also differs in context and intensity. Mentoring relationships are based around developing reciprocity and accountability between each partner. They are normally conducted outside the work environment and in the participants' own time. Clinical supervisory relationships are similar to mentoring in that they are reliant on developing a strong sense of reciprocity and accountability, and take place over a long period of time. They differ, though, in that they are conducted during working hours, although preferably away from the work setting. They are also commonly facilitated through the use of small groups. Preceptoring relationships are short term, exist in the clinical context and concentrate on clinical skill acquisition and assessment.