Atlanta, GA,
09:24 AM

Defining Mission-Driven Innovation at Shepherd Center

Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, vice president of research and innovation, shares her vision for innovation at Shepherd Center.

Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, is the vice president of research and innovation at Shepherd Center.

By Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM  
Vice President of Research and Innovation at Shepherd Center 

One does not have to go far or search too hard to find references to “innovation” these days. To some, “innovation” has become a buzzword thrown around to gain recognition or attention, just a new way to package old ideas. 

This is why in my new role as Vice President of Research and Innovation at Shepherd Center, it is important to me to go beyond the buzzword and focus our innovation efforts on what truly matters – the patients and families we serve.  

Shepherd Center was founded based on an innovative spirit driven to fill the need for a top-tier rehabilitation hospital in the Southeast. Since then, our clinicians, researchers, staff and leadership have worked relentlessly to develop new or improved approaches to care for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other related conditions.  

Now, I’m excited to take it a step further and define what mission-driven innovation means to us: advancing the field of rehabilitation to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities at Shepherd Center and around the world – today and for generations to come.  

We will do this in a few ways. First, we will cultivate a culture that is prepared to discover and innovate, in which we nurture and reward those who think boldly and creatively. We will take a strategic approach and ensure our work is closely integrated with our clinical programs’ priorities. This will involve creating a product development strategy and defining processes for bringing ideas to reality. Finally, we will leverage Shepherd Center’s clinical and research expertise, collaborate with our patients and like-minded external partners, and educate and train future researchers and innovators. 

Since I began my career at Shepherd Center in 1989, I have witnessed first-hand how innovation can make a true impact on peoples’ lives. From a young man with a high-level cervical injury able to control his computer and TV through a smartphone, to a woman with no limbs empowered to drive because of the innovative solution created for her vehicle, to a veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome now able to work because he has a new app to help manage his anxiety – there are so many examples of how we have helped people live fuller lives through innovation.  

Mission-driven innovation at Shepherd Center will lead to new and better ways to change “I can’t” moments into “I can” realities. I am excited about the future for Shepherd Center and the rehabilitation field, in general. Join us on our journey to being the preeminent innovation institute in rehabilitation medicine. Learn more at and in our recent research and innovation feature story at this link

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.