Although many health issues transcend national boundaries and require international co-operation, global health is rarely an integral part of the medical curriculum. While medical schools have a social responsibility to train healthcare professionals to serve local communities, the internationalisation of medical education (e.g. international medical students, export of medical curricula or medical schools) makes it increasingly difficult to define it as 'local'. It is therefore necessary to produce practitioners who can practice medicine in an ever-changing and unpredictable world. These practitioners must be clinically and culturally competent as well as able to use their global knowledge and experience to improve health and well-being, irrespective of where they eventually practice medicine. Global health practitioners are tomorrow's leaders, change agents and members of effective multiprofessional teams and so need to be aware of the environmental, cultural, social and political factors that impact on health, serving as advocates of people's rights to access resources, education and healthcare. This article addresses some of the difficulties of developing global health practitioners, offering suggestions for a global health curriculum. It also acknowledges that creating a global health practitioner requires international collaboration and shared resources and practices and places the onus of social accountability on academic leaders.