Week in the Life: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi CEO says balance is key

Heart surgeon Dr Rakesh Suri says structure is crucial as is a healthy body and mind

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - April 30th, 2018: Week in the Life of Dr Rakesh Suri, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Monday, April 30th, 2018 at Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Canadian Dr Rakesh Suri is chief executive of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. A revered surgeon, he joined in 2015 and helped recruit around 400 physicians. Dr Rakesh lives on Saadiyat Island with his wife and eight-year-old son and daughter, nine. Here he tells The National about his week.


I have a structure for my life, regardless of whether I’m in CEO role, acting as a heart surgeon or travelling. Success for the day is determined long before leaving the house. I get up at 4.45am every morning, exercise every day. This is essential for heart and body health but also mind health. Balance is extremely important. I spend time with my children and wife, as they’re getting ready. Every day, 7am, there’s a heart and vascular conference; we review events of the night, challenges of the day. Teams come together to address the needs of our patients.

From there leaders across the organisation come together in the atrium; we discuss the past 24 hours, the current situation, where we’re going in the day or two ahead. Meeting with the National Transplant and Department of Health to re-evaluate how we understand and advance organ donation in the region.


I take Careem to work - 20-minutes drive - and meditate. It allows latent thoughts, ideas and energies just below the surface to bubble up. It’s very instructive in how I’m going to run my day; allows things to percolate and be rationalised before we address them. I discuss a series of complex patients. One of our mandates is to train the next generation of Emirati caregivers and leaders of the healthcare sector. About 18/19 per cent of our total population [staff] is UAE nationals. I have a mission to advance recruitment of talent from around the nation. Two tele-conferences to the main campus in Ohio; they know exactly what’s happening here, I know what’s happening there.


My job is 24/7, 365 days. People ask if that’s stressful … it might be if you didn’t have balance. Vision plus balance plus excellent teams allows us to have an impact. On Tuesday I have heart surgery [to do]. Part of my passion is advancing the field of cardio-vascular care. Operations we traditionally did through an open chest we can do through small punctures; now we’re doing it through the groin. We’re working with inventors and companies who build these devices, to bring them to Abu Dhabi to help patients. We invest in our people; teach them how to deliver care in our model. We typically hand select physicians based on personal referrals of colleagues around the world.


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Meet the nursing team to promote a return-to-work programme for UAE national caregivers. We’re working with educational institutions to ensure we’re not only utilising Emirati talent, but preparing our nurses and medics to be serving in the military. I’m visiting our new facility in Al Ain. We’re functional there five days a week and expanding services. I think of health care as an end-to-end continuum. I intend to be involved along with my leaders throughout the organisation, keeping people healthy, treating them well while here and ensuring they come back for follow-up so they’re kept healthy. I like to see what it is like where care is delivered; see how nurses, doctors and technicians interact, by being part of it in the operating room. I’ve seen patients in the clinic, worked them up with colleagues, signed consent forms, I do the surgery, wheel them back if needed to the intensive care unit and take care of them until they’re dismissed.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - April 30th, 2018: Week in the Life of Dr Rakesh Suri, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Monday, April 30th, 2018 at Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Rakesh Suri says balance is important to maintain success. Chris Whiteoak / The National


Further meeting with the team and training on a new surgical procedure we’re bringing in. I’m involved in patient care every day. We have approximately 5,300 caregivers in Abu Dhabi involved daily. Our hospital is currently able to welcome 364 in-patients; we’re at about 70-75 per cent occupancy. We were built, staffed and our financial models based on delivery of complex team-based care unavailable elsewhere in the region or, in many instances, the world. We’re performing regional and world firsts, beyond the scope of our initial mandate.

I’m touring our VIP concierge suites with patients who fly in for care they couldn’t receive in Europe or the US. The Abu Dhabi Government has announced an effort for medical tourism. Our mission is to deliver world-class health care in a sustainable way and part of sustainability is a balance sheet. So, like any other CEO, we have to justify and pay our costs.


I’m in some time Friday and Saturday; they are rarely off days. I take a good walk through and ensure all those things I mentioned are humming. We have a 'backbone' of care. I also visit the majlis of Sheikh Nahyan [bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister for Tolerance], and other members of the community. It allows us to get the message out about new procedures or transplantation, roles we’re serving.

I rank Abu Dhabi as one of the truly, globally great places to live. We golf as a family. We’re blessed to be able to wander five minutes and have a day on the beach.


Typically I’ll exercise, have breakfast with the family. A whole-food diet, low in saturated fat and meat, is essential to me and based on latest scientific evidence. Go to the children’s lessons; they’ve been playing cello since five years of age. I couldn’t be more proud of the opportunities they have here. We really enjoy time together as a family. When I’m in meetings my phones are outside the room; focusing on mindfulness and intentional interactions is absolutely critical. I can only have one conversation at a time. When I’m with my family, the same is true. We have dinner either at Saadiyat or around town. Whatever you want, whether it’s performing arts, theatre, children’s activities, it’s all here.