Formalized rural health service delivery networks are emerging as an over-arching response to the attrition of rural surgical and maternity services in Canada. In effective networks, there is strong collaborative leadership, form follows function, core network elements are identified and site-specific variations are accommodated to meet the surgical needs of the population in each geographic catchment. The network catchment must reflect the natural alliances that already exist among health professionals, policy makers, health administrators, academic institutions and communities. Although each key stakeholder plays a key role in determining success, value is added through the synergistic interplay of all participants.