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). Since 2006, Dr. Smith has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago or RIC). She has led the organization in its mission to provide the best patient outcomes through the highest-quality clinical care, translational research, scientific discovery and education. Today she is leading Shirley Ryan AbilityLab into its novel vision for the future: to be the global source of science-driven breakthroughs in Human Ability.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the 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, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has been named the #1 rehabilitation hospital by U.S. News & World Report since 1991. 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. Dr. Smith also has extended Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s reach; today, it serves more than 50,000 patients annually, including referrals from more than 70 countries and nearly every state in the nation — numbers that continue to grow.
In addition to her leadership at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where she heads a team of more than 2,000 clinicians, scientists and staff, Dr. Smith is also a faculty member at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of several professional organizations. She serves on the Healthcare Industry Advisory Group for Madison Dearborn Partners and on the Board of Directors for Performance Health and AptarGroup, Inc.
Dr. Smith is widely recognized as a thought leader in her field. In 2020, she received the Chicago History Museum’s Enrico Fermi Making History Award for Distinction in Science, Medicine and Technology. In 2019, she spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the nation’s premier public gathering of leaders from around the globe. Also in 2019, she was named to Modern Healthcare’s exclusive “Top 25 Women Leaders” list. 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. Additionally, she was awarded the 2018 Women of Concern Humanitarian Award and shared the stage with Concern’s Leadership Award winner, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
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 of Medicine, 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 transformed and rebranded as Shirley Ryan AbilityLab with the opening of its new, state-of-the-art, 1.2-million-square-foot research hospital.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
355 East Erie
Chicago, IL 60611
Education & Professional Associations