Sister Callista Roy, CSJ, ’63, PhD, FAAN, professor emeritus of nursing, was recently honored by the Sigma Theta Tau International honor society of nursing for “extensive contributions to nursing scholarship spanning more than 50 years of service. She has made a significant global impact that has had long-term significance in nursing pedagogy, theory and evidence-based clinical practice.” The Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award was presented to Roy this month at the organization’s 46th biennial convention in Indianapolis, and Leah Fitzgerald, PhD, FNP-BC, dean and the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair, was also there to represent Mount Saint Mary’s University and help celebrate.
“When Sister Callista’s name was announced at the STTI conference, the entire audience stood in celebration and recognition of her achievement,” says FitzGerald. “It was an honor to be with her and observe her influence on and to nursing education, practice and research. Her contribution of the Roy Adaptation Model not only touches the lives of Mount grads but extends across the world and makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities.”
Roy says she never imagined the impact that her adaptation model, which calls for treating patients as complex human beings with ever-changing biological, psychological, social and spiritual needs, would have on nursing. “I was just trying to do my homework,” she laughs. She was getting her master’s at UCLA and on the first day of class, her professor explained that the nursing profession was moving quickly from diploma programs into higher education, that nursing must have its own knowledge base, and to do that it was necessary to clearly define the goal of nursing. She asked her students: What is nursing trying to accomplish?
Roy astonished her professor by responding, “The goal of nursing is to promote patient adaptation.” She then spent her career developing the framework that looks at people’s ability to deal with changes in the environment. Nurses who understand people, their environments and people’s capability to adapt can help their patients move more effectively toward better health. Today, there are seven international chapters of the Roy Adaptation Association, founded in 1991, which promote the teachings and continued research on the use of the model.
Roy admits that adoption of the model got off to a rocky start. She had returned to teach at the Mount, where there was discussion about revising the curriculum and moving away from a medical model to one based on nursing as a concept. She suggested the adaptation, but the faculty was not interested.
A medical crisis of her own led to vertigo so incapacitating that she was bedridden for nearly a year. Eventually, Roy learned how to stay on her feet and returned to her teaching position. When she returned, the faculty asked what she had been saying about adaptation. They admitted that they had made no progress in the past year. With the backing of Mount President Sister Rebecca Doan, who became her mentor, Roy’s adaptation model was put into place as the basis of the nursing curriculum.
A scholarly article on the model was submitted to a journal and accepted, and Roy let the editor know that there were follow-up articles on the model’s use in practice and another on education, to which the editor replied, “Let’s wait and see what the response is to this first article. The editorial board was equally divided on whether to publish it.” Not long thereafter, Roy received another letter: “Now that your fan mail is rivaling Agatha’s Christie’s, please send me the other articles!”
"I appreciate the award very much. But I think that lifetime achievement applies to a lot of people I know, so I represent all of them."
--Sister Callista Roy, CSJ, '63
From there, the use of and research into the model exploded. Roy has traveled to 37 countries – not on vacation, but for speaking engagements. “It was always a gift,” Roy says, “and thank God I had this strength and energy. I've witnessed a lot in healthcare and how society operates in general. The UK and Canada can't understand why the United States can't figure out how to give everybody health care. And in the Philippines, they export nurses. There are many, many many schools that prepare nurses, but their own system is pretty fragmented and not well staffed.”
Roy always wanted to be a Sister of St. Joseph, although she says she was a traditional teen; she even went steady with “a great guy” for three years. The second oldest in a family of seven boys and seven girls, she even feels like she raised a family. But Roy also always felt a strong pull toward nursing. “My mother was a vocational nurse,” she explains, “and I really admired how incredibly bright she was and how she could take knowledge and use it so effectively. I had really good focus and a very good role model.”
Nursing students today have so many different roles and opportunities to choose from; there’s never been a better time to be a nurse, says Roy. As for the lifetime achievement award, she says that her career has been “a great experience and I appreciate the award very much. But I think that lifetime achievement applies to a lot of people I know, so I represent all of them.
“I'm proud of my community of CSJs who, from the beginning, have met people’s needs. I was educated to the hilt by the community, and I am very grateful for so many gifts and particularly for being a Sister of St. Joseph my whole life.”