The AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care

Contributor: Jacqueline Fawcett
September 1, 2018

Author – Martha A.Q. Curley, RN, PhD, FAAN

Year First Published – 1996

Originally developed in 1996 as a new framework for AACN’s certification programs

Diagram of the Synergy Model © 2018 Jacqueline Fawcett

Major Concepts



  • Resiliency
  • Vulnerability
  • Stability
  • Complexity
  • Resource availability
  • Participation in care
  • Participation in decision making
  • Predictability


  • Clinical judgment
  • Advocacy and moral agency
  • Caring practices
  • Collaboration
  • Systems thinking
  • Response to diversity
  • Facilitation of learning
  • Clinical inquiry


  • Symptom and disease management
  • Resolution of ethical problems
  • Achievement of appropriate self-care
  • Demonstration of health-promoting behavior
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Rescue phenomena
  • Patient/family perception of being well cared for


  • Shared accountability and authority for unit operations and performance
  • More experienced nurses catalyzing the advancement of less experienced nurses


  • Nurse satisfaction
  • Staffing costs
  • Resource utilization and patient charges
  • Multidisciplinary teamwork and satisfaction
  • Cross-system innovation

A conceptual framework

Brief Description

The AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care focuses on the extent to which nurses’ competencies match patients’ characteristics. The goal of Synergy Model nursing is to “restore the patient to an optimal level of wellness as defined by the patient and family. Death can be an acceptable outcome in which the goal of nursing care is to move the patient toward a peaceful death” (Curley, M. A. Q. (2007). The AACN Synergy Model for patient care revisited. In M. A. Q. Curley (Ed.), Synergy: The unique relationship between nurses and patients. The AACN synergy model for patient care (p. 27). Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International.)

“Based on a decade of work by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), [the Synergy Model] can be used as the theoretical framework for the curriculum for universities, the model of practice for hospitals seeking Magnet status, the main theory behind AACN certifications, the framework for dissertations and DNP projects, and part of the foundation for the Consensus Model for Advanced Practice Nursing.” (Retrieved from

Primary Sources

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (2000). Appendix C: The synergy model. In: Standards for acute and critical care nursing practice (pp. 47-55). Aliso Viejo, CA: Author .

Curley, M. A. (1998). Patient-nurse synergy: Optimizing patient outcomes. American Journal of Critical Care, 7, 64-72.

Curley, M. A. Q. (Ed.) (2007). Synergy: The unique relationship between nuses and patients. The AACN synergy model for patient care. Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International.

Hardin, S. R., & Kaplow, R. (2005). Synergy for clinical excellence: The AACN synergy model for patient care. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Hardin, S. R., & Kaplow, R. (2017). Synergy for clinical excellence: The AACN synergy model for patient care (2nd ed.). Aliso Viejo, CA: American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

Kaplow, R., & Hardin, S. R. (Eds.). Critical care nursing: Synergy for optimal outcomes. Boston. MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Application of theory

“While development of the Synergy Model initially focused on critical care nursing certification, the model’s architects also acknowledged its potential for broader application to nursing practice. Why? Because the patient needs identified in the model can be applied to any patient/nurse interaction. Currently, you’ll find the Synergy Model at work not only as the keystone of AACN certifications, but as a professional practice model, a foundation for nursing school curricula and a model for professional advancement.” (Retrieved from


Martha A. Q. Curley

“Dr. Curley was awarded a PhD from Boston College, a masters degree in Acute Care Pediatric Nursing from Yale University, a bachelors degree from UMass–Amherst, and a diploma in nursing from Springfield (MA) Hospital. Prior to joining the nursing faculty at [the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing], she served as the Director of Nursing Research for the Critical Care and Cardiovascular Nursing Program at Children’s Hospital Boston. She currently holds the Ruth M. Colket Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” (