Oct 23, 2023


by Leslie Dornier-Robidoux

Designing a Difference: How Personal Stories Can Influence Healthcare Facility Design

Last month, I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Healthcare Facilities Symposium and Expo. Promising a wealth of insights and opportunities for healthcare professionals, experts, and designers, the annual event aimed to foster collaboration, innovation, and learning, addressing challenges in the ever-evolving healthcare landscape. As a seasoned conference pro, I was excited to network and learn about the latest developments in the field, particularly as it pertained to people-centered healthcare facilities and healthcare facility design. Little did I know that this conference would offer a moment that would leave a profound and lasting impression on me.

As the opening keynote speaker took the stage, I gasped in surprise. I was taken aback, not by his credentials, but by a chance encounter earlier that morning at a local Starbucks. I had stood in line behind a man in a wheelchair. While waiting, I considered the many challenges he must face daily. Yet, he handled himself with an inspiring level of independence. I marveled at his resilience, wondering about the story behind his wheelchair.

Photo Credit: Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo


Less than two hours later, this same individual took the stage as a keynote speaker, commanding the attention of over a thousand eager listeners. His name was Ryan Straschnitzki, founder of the Straz Strong Foundation. He shared his remarkable journey, a story of personal transformation and resilience.

Ryan, once a young Canadian boy with dreams of becoming a professional hockey player, had faced an arduous path to achieve his goals. However, on a fateful day in 2018, a tragic bus accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Despite this life-altering setback, Ryan now uses his experience to inspire, dedicating his life to spreading positivity and motivation. As a public speaker, adaptive athlete, and accessibility specialist, he shares his mission to create a world where all have access to adaptive sports and affordable rehabilitation while raising public awareness and fundraising for mental and physical disabilities.


What struck me most about Ryan’s journey was the often-overlooked aspect of healthcare—what happens beyond the hospital walls? We frequently hear about medical procedures and treatments, but what about life after healthcare? Like Ryan, how do individuals facing adversity continue to make a difference in the world?

These questions resonate deeply with healthcare designers, suppliers, and facilitators who attend conferences like this one. The symposium reminded us that healthcare is not merely a job or a career; it is a calling to make a lasting impact on people’s lives. Ryan’s experience is a powerful example of using personal learning to help others and drive positive change.

While the conference offered a range of seminars, each with its own valuable takeaways, my most significant inspiration came from Ryan’s real-life story. It was a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the capacity of individuals to make a difference, even in the face of life’s most challenging lessons.


As healthcare professionals and designers, we are tasked with creating spaces and systems supporting the journey to recovery. However, it is equally essential to remember that our role extends beyond the physical environment. We must draw inspiration from individuals like Ryan Straschnitzki and use our experiences to drive positive outcomes, making a difference in the lives of those we serve.

The Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo was more than just a gathering of professionals; it was a reminder that in the world of healthcare, the most profound lessons often come from personal stories. It’s a call to action for healthcare professionals, suppliers, and designers to be inspired, to learn from one another, and to make a difference that extends far beyond the walls of a hospital or a conference room. Ryan Straschnitzki’s story is a powerful example of what is possible when we choose to make a positive impact, and it undoubtedly resonates in the hearts of those fortunate enough to hear him speak.

All images provided by Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo


Leslie Dornier-Robidoux

As a studio principal in Little’s Healthcare practice, Leslie leads a dedicated team of designers committed to positively impacting people’s lives. Detailed-oriented and meticulous about quality control standards, she is a trusted business partner to her clients. A self-proclaimed wine enthusiast, Leslie spends her time outside the office traveling, gardening, and spending time with her family.

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