The Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee has studied the specialties of anaesthesia, general surgery, orthopaedics, ophthalmology and urology in Australia. A methodology is presented for rationalizing various data sources to establish numbers and characteristics of the existing workforce, for applying a variety of information to establish opinion about current adequacy, to project future needs and to advise the mechanisms to ensure delivery of services. This study emphasizes the importance of the cooperative input of governments, health administrations and professional bodies, careful gathering of fundamental data, the studied application of uneven pieces of evidence, recognition of changes in needs and demands, the overlap of sectors of the medical workforce in service delivery, and the requirement for continued study and monitoring. The current size of the workforce in these surgical specialties is found to be satisfactory overall but with some uneven distribution. The anaesthetic workforce is found to be slightly deficient in number overall. The growth of future demand for these specialties was estimated between 1% and 3% per annum and requirements for increases in trainee numbers to meet these projected future demands are defined.