Cleveland Clinic Canada Led the Way on Advisory Partnerships

Medical Director Program helps leaders make decisions informed by top minds in healthcare

COVID protocols

The disruption to business operations created by COVID-19 is unparalleled. Across the globe, governments have imposed and oscillated between sweeping restrictions such as lockdowns, even as we roll out vaccines and work to approach herd immunity. Human resources leaders and chiefs of staff have been asked to decide whether to open or close offices based on a disease with a spreading behavior that can be unpredictable and complicated by variants of concern, and an ever-evolving landscape around vaccine candidates and “hidden pandemics.” Organizations have relied on these and other senior leaders to make decisions to manage mitigation protocols with breakneck speed and, often, little medical knowledge or support in-house.


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Fortunately, Cleveland Clinic has been working alongside many leading organizations by providing advisory services in response to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. Profound new health and safety issues and financial considerations affect an organization’s ability to protect its stakeholders, including employees, business partners and investors.

Mike Kessel, President & CEO, Cleveland Clinic Canada, led the effort from which advisory services sprang forth, “Over five years ago, our Canadian team had an innovative idea on how to better support organizations and their employees in a way that could reduce organizational risk. Today, we are proud of the Medical Director Program we have built with the local and global expertise of the Cleveland Clinic. Every day, companies put their trust in Cleveland Clinic Canada to help keep their employees and customers safe. This is more important now than ever, as we navigate the new normal of the pandemic.”

For more insight on this collaborative approach to healthcare, Consult QD interviewed Talia Varley, MD, BSc, MPH, CCFP on her role as the Physician Lead of Advisory Services for Cleveland Clinic Canada. She has scaled and led the Medical Director Program to provide non-healthcare organizations with a Chief Medical Director (CMD), backed by the Cleveland Clinic global enterprise. Dr. Varley is a member of Cleveland Clinic Canada’s senior leadership team and complements her management role with ongoing medical practice.


What advisory services does Cleveland Clinic Canada offer to organizations?

Dr. Varley: Advisory services are quite broad, but one large focus is our Medical Director Program. This strategic advisory offering is led by a Cleveland Clinic Canada Chief Medical Director (CMD) representing a world-class team of experts to help companies reduce organizational risk, improve overall employee health and safety and drive company performance. The CMD acts as a physician leader and corporate partner who offers health-based management acumen as it relates to health, safety and wellness concerns of the organization. Sitting alongside the highest levels of the organization’s management team, the CMD provides proactive and just-in-time support with the right information and tools to help businesses confidently make decisions. Our 100-year history of physician leadership provides a durable foundation for these advisory services.

Ideal partnerships are with nonclinical organizations that may or may not employ a public health officer or chief medical officer. Interestingly, we have experience partnering with organizations across many industries (e.g., finance, telecommunications, health technology) and sizes, where we support anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of employees within a single organization. The team is able to successfully complement existing client resources, skill sets and leadership capabilities, including collaborating with existing Chief Medical Officer roles within an organization given unique access and insights provided by our global system.

What makes your program unique?

Dr. Varley: Often, organizations will contract with consultants in a narrow, project-based focus. In contrast, our CMD engagement model offers a broad and holistic scope around organizational health, and that generally includes anything health and safety related, really.


It’s about understanding the value therein and the importance of having a health-based strategy. The CMD relationship allows organizations to engage clinical expertise and leverage the best of Cleveland Clinic as part of a longer term, dynamic relationship. Ultimately, the goal is to help organizations effectively manage their risk tolerance, ensure their employees are healthy and safe, and enhance their ability to navigate health-based challenges and risks, as seen during the pandemic.

In terms of our tailored approach, we flex to the needs of an organization with custom designed services that are of high quality, and positioned in a corporate-friendly way that works best for the partner organization. Further, we aim to engage in complementary, rather than redundant, ways within organizations with the understanding that employers commonly have diverse relationships with other third party traditional consultancies and resources. As an example, the CMD engages an organization’s leaders to understand how we can infuse additional health-based knowledge, ideas and unique insights into their company – while simultaneously analyzing how COVID-19 may impact their business and operations such as supply chain strategy, for example.

How has the pandemic changed what you do

Dr. Varley: I think that there’s a new world emerging now, and our leadership team had the foresight to anticipate this years ago. There’s a world in which health-based consortiums become a regular part of every business plan and organizational strategy, coming at a time when ESG matters more than ever. That’s a real change, and one that is happening during COVID-19 in particular with programs like ours. We are very well positioned to engage organizations with the kind of support they need to prepare for and lead into the future. It’s really about added value. Before the COVID-19 era, not every organization was convinced that they needed health expertise for their team and workforce in the corporate setting — and that has significantly changed in 2021.


But Cleveland Clinic was able to anticipate that this was going to be an important part of every company, in every sector. And so, the fact that our program existed years before a global event such as the pandemic tells you the Cleveland Clinic leaders had an early view of the gap that always existed – and understood our expertise to be uniquely positioned to fill it. With Cleveland Clinic’s scale, the CMDs have always been able to tap into a wide and deep range of expertise for client organizations – and they continue to do so throughout the pandemic. The importance of this reach and access has only grown amidst COVID-19 and very much reinforced our model and programmatic design. Our physicians possess a global understanding of the world’s health care and the pandemic has positioned us to effectively bring that knowledge into client leadership relationships at this critical time.

Our Medical Director and caregiver colleagues continue to uphold the unique vision held since the opening of Cleveland Clinic on Feb. 26, 1921 – a century of caring for patients and focusing on health-based impact across the globe.

For information on Cleveland Clinic Global Executive Education, email


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