Creative Careers: Tonya Walker, MD, MPH

Doctor Tonya Walker’s first love was public health, and it’s that passion that has guided her into a variety of unique jobs in emergency medicine. Now, two years into her role as the first Chief Medical Officer and Director of Employee Health at Netflix, she uses her past training in emergency medicine, public health, and occupational medicine to care for the global teams that power one of the largest streaming services in the entertainment industry.

She was hired by Netflix in November 2020 after spending almost two years as the head of medical and occupational health for Unilever North America. When Netflix contacted her about building and leading an operational pandemic response team, she thought hard about whether the opportunity had the public health component she enjoyed so much at her previous roles.

At Unilever, Dr. Walker was supporting the safety of the staffers who were producing the soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other goods the public so desperately needed during the early days of the pandemic. In contrast, “Netflix was helping people mentally,” she said. As an emergency physician mom in New York City who had to homeschool her children during the height of the pandemic, she understood the value of being able to emotionally escape into a new (or old) TV show or movie.

When she accepted the job at Netflix, Dr. Walker threw herself into collaborating with the teams and developing the protocols needed for staffers to work safely in a variety of countries, each with different—and constantly changing—COVID regulations. She employed her skills learned in the emergency department: prioritizing, triaging, and staying calm in chaos.

“As we move out of the crisis phase of COVID-19, the role can focus on the more customary medical advisory, network building, and occupational health components of a corporate medical officer role,” Dr. Walker said. She consults on employee benefit packages, medical leaves of absences, travel and workers compensation cases. Her team also works on workplace wellness and resilience initiatives for employees.

Netflix has recently hired a physician to work on the team that oversees onsite safety for projects filmed in North America. “This person will help to implement occupational health programs for our shows,” she said. Dr. Walker assists with coordinating and contracting with local medical advisors and the emergency medical services for the company’s international employees and projects. Her travel schedule stays busy!