News & Press: Member Highlights

Member Highlight Dr. Ragnarsson

Wednesday, July 6, 2016  
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AAP thanks Adam Stein, MD for his contributions to this article

Kristjan T. Ragnarsson, MD, a distinguished leader in academic physiatry for over 40 years, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on spinal cord injury rehabilitation, will retire from his prestigious career.  Dr. Ragnarsson held the position of the Lucy G. Moses Professor and Chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City for 30 years and has been a mentor to countless students, residents, and young faculty.  He has been a tireless champion of persons with disabilities, the field of physiatry, and the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP).  Dr. Ragnarsson’s accomplishments in the field are numerous and his dedicated service to the AAP earned him the 2015 Outstanding Service Award.  He has been a member of the AAP since 1979, and has been active on AAP committees since 1983.  In 2003, he was elected to the board of directors and chaired a number of committees, including Legislative Affairs (1995-2003), Finance (2005-2007), Governance (2007-2009), and Leadership Development and Recognition (2011-2013).  He rose through the ranks of the organization because of his graceful and insightful leadership, and served as AAP President from 2007-2009.  Dr. Ragnarsson has had a substantial impact on many aspects of the organization, and the AAP flourished under his leadership and involvement.  Dr. Ragnarsson embodies the highest degree of professionalism and the field has been truly enhanced and enriched by his career as a physiatrist.


Dr. Ragnarsson received his Medical Degree at the University of Iceland in 1969 and completed his physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residency and spinal cord injury fellowship at New York University (NYU) in 1975.  He served on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine between 1976 and 1986.  After developing national and international reputations in the area of spinal cord injury medicine early in his career at New York University School of Medicine and the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation, for the last 30 years Dr. Ragnarsson has served as Chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and was the inaugural Dr. Lucy G. Moses Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the School.  In this role, he was instrumental in the clinical and academic growth of his Department to one of the most respected academic departments of PM&R in the United States.  He successfully secured a wide variety of grant funding to provide comprehensive and lifelong care to people with disabilities, most notably as Principal Investigator of the Mount Sinai Spinal Cord Injury Model System from 1990-2011.  Dr. Ragnarsson also served as Principal Investigator and Project Director for the New York Brain Injury Model System at Mount Sinai and secured additional funding from NIDRR and NIH in the areas of functional electrical stimulation and stroke.  Among Dr. Ragnarsson’s many awards is The Jacobi Medallion, the highest award presented by the Mount Sinai Alumni Association, in recognition of both his wide-ranging achievement in medicine as well as his singular service to the Mount Sinai Hospital.

As an educator, Dr. Ragnarsson has been a national leader for the field of physiatry.  Under his leadership, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is one of the few medical schools in the United States that provide physiatric education to its medical students in each of the four years of the medical school curriculum.  The Department has sponsored two successful residency training programs in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and in Spinal Cord Medicine.  A number of Dr. Ragnarsson’s mentees have gone on to a variety of leadership positions in the field.  Among these are three medical school PM&R chairs (R. Zafonte, S. Flanagan, A. Stein) and one assistant dean (D. Perret). 

As a researcher, Dr. Ragnarsson has made numerous noteworthy contributions to the physiatric and medical literature.  He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on functional electrical stimulation and pathologic fractures after spinal cord injury.  He is the author of over 175 publications and has been one of the associate editors of the Braddom textbook, one of two major textbooks in the field of physiatry.  He has chaired the NIH Consensus Development Panel on the Rehabilitation of Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury, which resulted in the publication of important clinical practice guidelines in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999.


Dr. Ragnarsson has positively impacted not only the AAP, but many other organizations.  He has been a critically important leader in the development and growth of the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA), an organization he has also served as President.  At ASIA, he had a critical role in establishing the G. Heiner Sell Fund and Lectureship to promote advances in spinal cord injury medicine.  Dr. Ragnarsson is also a past President of the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2011-2013) where he established the Össur Prosthetic/Orthotic Research Grant, and served as Chairman of the AAPM&R Marketing Committee (1995-2000).

Dr. Ragnarsson is recipient of many honors including the AAP Distinguished Member Award, AAP Outstanding Service Award, AAPM&R Frank A. Krusen Lifetime Achievement Award, ACRM Distinguished Service Award and Gold Key Award, ASIA Lifetime Achievement Award, American Paraplegia Society Excellence Award, and Howard A. Rusk, MD Humanitarian Award.  He has consistently been listed among “Top Doctors in America” and “Best Doctors in New York,” and has made many invited presentations nationally and internationally.