Joanne C. Smith, MD


The 25 Most Powerful Women in Chicago


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In honor of all of this, and just because it’s a good idea, Make It Better proudly presents to you our inaugural list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Chicago. These are our city’s movers and shakers — women who control multi-million-dollar budgets, powerful media or other public platforms, and have created transformational models worthy of wide replication.

They have also shared their best advice to help others realize their full potential.

23. Joanne C. Smith, M.D., President and CEO, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)


Dr. Joanne C. Smith is one of those rare visionaries who also is kind, compassionate, and charismatic.  These traits certainly help her generate the support that allows the hospital that she leads — known for decades as the best in the country — to be rebuilt, reimagined and renamed. Her vision and determination to transform the fields of brain research, rehabilitation and prosthetics are an inspiration.

As the leader of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Smith wanted to place researchers alongside practitioners and patients to create greater synergies for all. She tested this idea in RIC’s AbilityLab Patient Recovery Unit, which was established in 2012 and is a colorful, light-filled space, full of positive messages. The results from this and other leading-edge research were so spectacular that the board decided to build an entirely new hospital around this concept. The new $550 million facility will open in March 2017 and be named the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

“We are investing in science and technology more than any other place of our kind on the planet,” says Smith. “A new era in physical medicine and rehabilitation, perhaps a whole ‘new category’ in medicine, starts today.” The seventh of nine children, Smith quickly learned responsibility and the importance of confidence. She relies strongly on her personal faith too. Smith resides in Hinsdale with her husband and two children.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “I see leadership as calling people toward a better future — helping the team to see that better future and take the actions necessary to move toward it.”


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