Joanne C. Smith, MD, is a visionary leader and the driving force behind transforming the delivery of care in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). As President and Chief Executive Officer of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago or RIC) for the past decade, Dr. Smith has led the organization in its mission to provide the best patient outcomes through the highest-quality translational research, scientific discovery and education. Today she is leading the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab into its bold vision for the future: to be the global source of science-driven breakthroughs in Human Ability.
The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the global leader in physical medicine and rehabilitation for adults and children with the most severe, complex conditions — from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury to stroke, amputation and cancer-related impairment. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, for the past 28 years in a row, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has been named the #1 rehabilitation hospital by U.S. News & World Report. The scale of its research enterprise is the largest of its kind in the world. Under Dr. Smith’s leadership, the organization has experienced unprecedented growth and visibility. During her tenure as CEO, net revenues have increased 93% and cash reserves have grown 92%. During the same period, grant revenues have grown 107%. Dr. Smith also has extended the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s reach; today, it serves more than 50,000 patients annually, including referrals from 52 countries and nearly every state in the nation — numbers that continue to grow.
In addition to her leadership at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where she heads a team of more than 3,000 clinicians, scientists and staff, Dr. Smith is also a faculty member at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of several professional organizations. She serves on the Healthcare Advisory Roundtable for Madison Dearborn Partners and on the Boards of Directors for Performance Health, Inc. and AptarGroup, Inc.
Dr. Smith is widely recognized as a thought leader in her field. She was awarded the 2018 Women of Concern Humanitarian Award and shared the stage with Concern’s Leadership Award winner, Secretary Madeleine K. Albright. In 2018, she presented at the first-ever Wall Street Journal “Future of Everything Festival,” an ideas exchange focused on innovations that are transforming the world. She also was named by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Chicago Business” in 2018. In 2017, Dr. Smith was inducted into the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, featuring her name and accomplishments among Chicago’s most distinguished business leaders and entrepreneurs.
Dr. Smith earned a BS, cum laude, from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., an MD degree, with Alpha Omega Alpha distinction, from Michigan State University, and is Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which honored her with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008.
After completing her residency and chief residency at Northwestern’s Feinberg School, Dr. Smith joined RIC as a practicing physician in 1992 and served the Institute in progressively expanded clinical, service development and operating roles. In 2006, she was appointed President and CEO. In 2017, RIC became the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab with the opening of its new, state-of-the-art research hospital.