Case Studies

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, named for Shirley Ryan, co-founder of, is a research rehabilitation hospital located in Chicago, Illinois, that takes an interdisciplinary approach to achieve better and faster recovery for its patients. Over its 67-year history, it has treated more than one million patients with severe and complex conditions while contributing to groundbreaking research on human ability and rehabilitation.


The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the first-ever translational research hospital that applies current research findings to patient care. According to Dr. Joanne C. Smith, president and CEO, “At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, clinicians, scientists, innovators, and technologists collaborate in interdisciplinary teams to develop new insights to help patients gain more function and achieve better outcomes.” There are currently 200 clinical trials and research studies underway at the hospital. In addition, it offers not only online and in-person continuing-education classes for health care workers through its nonprofit Academy but also numerous community programs to ensure that its patients have access to wraparound services throughout their entire lives. For example, the hospital provides adaptive sports and recreation programs for children, youth, and adults with an impairment in physical function. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab also has a vocational rehabilitation program that assists people with physical impairments in returning to work or obtaining a new job through counseling and assessments.


Since 1991, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has been ranked the “No. 1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America” by U.S. News & World Report. Every year, it treats 55,000 patients from around the world using its innovative approach to patient care. More than 1,200 individuals participate in its adaptive sports programs, including five players who won the gold medal for the USA sled hockey team at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. The hospital also supports nearly 1,000 individuals through its vocational rehabilitation program.

How The Satter Foundation Has Helped

After learning about the groundbreaking work of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the Satter Foundation invested in the hospital’s education programs that train new and practicing health care professionals on methods of care grounded in pioneering research. For example, the hospital operates physical medicine and rehabilitation residency and research fellowship programs for the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, training 40 medical residents over the past year to create the next generation of pioneers in the field of rehabilitation. 

What's Next

The hospital will continue to work on improving patient outcomes and hopes to help change the ways in which all health care is delivered, regardless of specialty. For example, it is currently refining a new outcomesassessment system that will help measure a patient’s rehabilitation and recovery progress. A similar tool does not currently exist for the rehabilitation field, and, as Smith explains, “subsequent to beta testing during the coming year, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab intends to share the basic assessment system with the world, free of charge, for all to use. In doing so, we will benefit all patients, providers, and insurers, and continually raise the bar for outcomes and value.”

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