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What Is Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing?

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  May 17, 2023
A Nurse in Blue Scrubs Gives a Hand Massage to an Older Patient.

What Is Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing?

In the modern health care landscape, treating the whole person is more important than ever before. It’s not enough to simply consider the physical aspects of an individual’s ailment; multiple dimensions of care can contribute to a person’s healing. That’s the precise ideology behind Roy’s Adaptation Model of nursing, a nursing care model that uses a uniquely holistic framework to promote successful recovery for patients.

Roy’s Adaptation Model of nursing was developed by Sister Callista Roy in 1976 and has served as a key tool in defining nursing practice ever since. Roy’s model recognizes the individual as a set of interrelated biological, psychological, and social systems, all of which strive to maintain balance with the external world. When nurses are able to garner a full understanding of Roy’s model through immersive education, they’re empowered to provide more effective and compassionate care.

Defining Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing

At the core of Roy’s Adaptation Model of nursing is the principle that there is no “absolute” level of balance among humans’ biological, psychological, and social systems when it comes to healing. Each individual is unique and adapts to the stress of illness in their own way.

Sister Callista Roy outlined four modes of adaptation that contribute to a person’s healing:

  • Physiological: The individual’s physical health and functions
  • Self-concept: The individual’s beliefs and feelings about themself
  • Role function: The individual’s role in society
  • Interdependence: The individual’s relationships and interactions with others

For nurses to attend to these four modes of adaptation, Roy suggested applying a six-step nursing process:

  1. Assessment of Behavior: Observe the patient’s behaviors in each of the four modes, then compare them with norms to deem them either adaptive or ineffective.
  2. Assessment of Stimuli: Observe the focal, contextual, or residual factors (stimuli) that influence the patient’s positive or negative behaviors.
  3. Nursing Diagnosis: State the patient’s ineffective behaviors and the probable cause of those ineffective behaviors.
  4. Goal Setting: Set realistic and attainable goals in collaboration with the patient to correct and/or improve those ineffective behaviors.
  5. Intervention: Together with the patient, manipulate the patient’s stimuli, which is sometimes referred to as the “doing phase.” The object is to build new, healthier habits that contribute to the patient’s healing and acceptance.
  6. Evaluation: Determine the degree of change in the patient as evidenced by changes in their behavior. Reassess the patient’s ineffective behaviors and revise the interventions.

In effect, Roy’s model focuses on the fact that change is at the center of human existence. And to effectively deal with change, individuals must leverage their coping mechanisms, both innate and acquired, to positively adapt to their circumstances, including illness.

Cycles of health and illness are inevitable elements of every person’s life. The ultimate goal of existence is to maintain dignity and integrity while navigating these cycles. Understanding this conceptual framework of adaptation to illness is especially helpful in the field of nursing, particularly as it relates to improving patients’ quality of life and helping patients and their family members accept death.

Benefits of the Adaptation Model of Nursing

It’s rare that the exact cause of a person’s health complications can be easily pinpointed. For example, an individual experiencing extreme chronic back pain is likely dealing with multiple influencing factors, including physiological, mental, and emotional triggers. To treat just one of those factors would likely result in a poor outcome.

This is the primary and most powerful benefit of the adaptation model of nursing. In Roy’s model, nurses consider the whole person and their surrounding environment when treating patients. The model can even be applied to a patient facing a terminal illness to help them feel comfortable and at peace as they prepare for the end of their life.

Roy’s model has other benefits for nurses as well, including:

  • The sequence of steps and their focus are consistent. In every phase, adapting to maintain integrity is central.
  • The concepts of Roy’s model are presented in relatively simple terms.
  • The model acts as a guide for nurses to apply observation and interviewing skills to perform an individualized assessment of each patient. These skills can be applied across most practice settings within nursing.

The primary drawback of Roy’s Adaptation Model is that it can be intensive, requiring a significant amount of time and effort to understand the full person. For busy nurses with multiple patients, applying thorough observation and interviewing protocols to then come up with holistic solutions can feel daunting, especially considering that interventions may need to be revised in the future.

However, significant up-front efforts to help a person adapt to their condition can be critical in both their short- and long-term well-being. And, for nurses who know how to leverage Roy’s Adaptation Model to its fullest extent, their patients’ positive outcomes can be measurably greater.

Learn to Put Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing Into Practice

For nurses who wish to provide outstanding, holistic care and improve their patients’ quality of life, Roy’s Adaptation Model of nursing can be a powerful tool. Whether a patient is healing from an acute or chronic injury, experiencing an illness for the first time, or facing the end of their life, the model can be applied to empower the patient and facilitate positive outcomes.

At The University of Tulsa, our top-value online RN to BSN program center Roy’s Adaptation Model and help nurses reach their potential as holistic practitioners. Learn more about which program is right for your career.


Applied Nursing Research, “Application of the Roy Adaptation Theory to a Care Program for Nurses”

Current Nursing, Roy’s Adaptation Model

The Journal of Breast Health, “Nursing Approach Based on Roy Adaptation Model in a Patient Undergoing Breast Conserving Surgery for Breast Cancer”

Nurseslabs, “Sister Callista Roy: Adaptation Model of Nursing”

Nursing Theory, “Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing”

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