Background Particularly when undertaken on a large scale, implementing innovation in higher education poses many challenges. Sustaining the innovation requires early adoption of a coherent implementation strategy. Using an example from clinical education, this article describes a process used to implement a large-scale innovation with the intent of achieving sustainability. Desire to improve the effectiveness of undergraduate medical education has led to growing support for a longitudinal integrated clerkship (LIC) model. This involves a move away from the traditional clerkship of 'block rotations' with frequent changes in disciplines, to a focus upon clerkships with longer duration and opportunity for students to build sustained relationships with supervisors, mentors, colleagues and patients. A growing number of medical schools have adopted the LIC model for a small percentage of their students. At a time when increasing medical school numbers and class sizes are leading to competition for clinical supervisors it is however a daunting challenge to provide a longitudinal clerkship for an entire medical school class. This challenge is presented to illustrate the strategy used to implement sustainable large scale innovation. What was done A strategy to implement and build a sustainable longitudinal integrated community-based clerkship experience for all students was derived from a framework arising from Roberto and Levesque's research in business. The framework's four core processes: chartering, learning, mobilising and realigning, provided guidance in preparing and rolling out the 'whole of class' innovation. Discussion Roberto and Levesque's framework proved useful for identifying the foundations of the implementation strategy, with special emphasis on the relationship building required to implement such an ambitious initiative. Although this was innovation in a new School it required change within the school, wider university and health community. Challenges encountered included some resistance to moving away from traditional hospital-centred education, initial student concern, resource limitations, workforce shortage and potential burnout of the innovators. Summary Large-scale innovations in medical education may productively draw upon research from other disciplines for guidance on how to lay the foundations for successfully achieving sustainability.