The quality of care received by a patient or consumer critically depends on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the health workforce; the structure and functioning of the health workforce is critical to the structure and functioning of the health system overall. To a very large extent, diagnosis and treatment decisions call on the training and experience of the health professional. The quality of the interaction between a patient or consumer depends on the interpersonal and technical skills of health professionals. In a sense, health workers are important to defining the very nature of health care services. The importance of the health workforce is further highlighted by the fact that, as is typical of most service industries, labour accounts for a large proportion of health costs (around 80%). This paper provides an overview of the size and composition of the health workforce in Australia. It then reviews three segments of the workforce in more detail (medical, nursing and other health professionals) and reviews contemporary policy issues affecting those groups.