The major advance in informing rural workforce policy internationally over the past 25 years has been the recognition of the importance of the 'rural pipeline'. The rural pipeline suggests that people with 'rural origin' (who spent some childhood years in rural areas) and/or 'rural exposure' (who do part of their professional training in rural areas) are more likely to select rural work locations. What is not known is whether the rural pipeline also increases the length of time professionals spend in rural practice throughout their careers. This paper analyses data from a survey of rural health professionals in six countries in the northern periphery of Europe in 2013 to examine the relationship between rural origin and rural exposure and the intention to remain in the current rural job or to preference rural jobs in future. Results are compared between countries, between different types of rural areas (based on accessibility to urban centres), different occupations and workers at different stages of their careers. The research concludes that overall the pipeline does impact on retention, and that both rural origin and rural exposure make a contribution. However, the relationship is not strong in all contexts, and health workforce policy should recognise that retention may in some cases be improved by recruiting beyond the pipeline.