Models of care that include a prominent role for Aboriginal workers are fundamental to improving the health of Aboriginal Australians. However, tension arises when these models co-exist with mainstream models, contributing to difficulties sustaining an Aboriginal workforce. The ‘ideal worker’ theory is drawn on to explore whether historical workplace norms undermine the roles of Aboriginal workers in an Australian hospital setting. In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 staff and clients of an innovative maternity service, featuring Aboriginal Maternal Infant Care (AMIC) workers caring for Aboriginal women in partnership with midwives. A phenomenological methodology highlighted that unrealistic and inappropriate assumptions embedded in the ideal worker notion underpin many challenges facing AMIC workers. These workers have deep ties to their communities, with extensive responsibilities beyond the workplace. Although the hospital system relies on these ties to engage clients, this time commitment and the unbounded ways in which AMIC workers provide care are not acknowledged. Findings illustrate how the ideal worker concept has a cultural and gender dimension, which undermines AMIC workers and does not value culturally relevant care. This work has implications for ingraining cultural competence into health care, suggesting the wide-ranging contributions of Aboriginal workers must be recognised to achieve sustainable reform.