Penn Nursing embraces innovation, and Iris Mayoral lives that powerful vision as an RN on an inpatient Adult Medical/Geriatric Psychiatric Unit at UCLA Health Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. As part of her position, she is the Chair of the hospital’s New Knowledge and Innovation (NKI) Council.

“I’ve worked with a team of nurses to implement our Electronic Patient Rounding System (EPRS) throughout our hospital,” Iris says. “Our EPRS will increase staff accountability and effectiveness of q15 minute rounds on our patients to promote patient safety. In the coming year our NKI plans to collaborate with the NKIs at UCLA Santa Monica and UCLA Ronald Reagan to host a Nurse Hackathon to promote nursing innovation. Nurses’ experiences at the bedside equip us with unique insight into patient values and ingenious approaches to improving patient care.”

Iris’ career in nursing has been a testament to being a change-maker and finding new ways to provide care to patients. In addition to her work to implement an EPRS, she led and implemented a Proactive Toileting Program (a program developed by a nurse) on her unit. The implementation, intended to address the high number of patient falls her unit was seeing, was supported of the Falls Prevention Committee, where she serves as Co-Chair.

“As many of our patients have medical and psychiatric conditions that increase their level of impulsivity and decrease their ability to verbally communicate their needs,” Iris says, “our Proactive Toileting Program takes the responsibility off patients of having to call for assistance and gives our staff the responsibility of prompting patients to use the bathroom with assistance or checking for episodes of incontinence. This approach is novel in the inpatient psychiatric setting and has significantly helped us better care for our patients while increasing staff teamwork and accountability.” Iris and her colleagues plan to disseminate the initiative at a national conference this coming year. She also recently had a special opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team to develop the content and design of the “UCLA Psych” app, an orientation and educational tool that points users toward resources throughout the hospital system and the surrounding area.

“Nursing is both an art and a science,” Iris says. This is particularly true when it comes to innovation. As an undergrad in Penn Nursing’s BSN program, she minored in music, something she been able to use for more innovative patient care. “Music has allowed me to better connect with a diverse population of patients in terms of their age, background, and even cognition level.”

As an example of her deeper connection, she points to an encounter with a young, female patient admitted to her inpatient psych unit with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. “She was constantly moving and could not sit still to finish a meal or complete a task. She was tired but paced the unit, intrusively cleaning surfaces. As a way of directing her attention, I played a song on the stand-up piano in our day room. She was curious, looking over my shoulder. While she was too restless to sit, she kept her eyes glued to my fingers on the piano keys.”

“I gently held her hands and placed them over the keys on the piano where mine had rested. Over the next 10 minutes, I engaged her in learning the melody to the song ‘Ode to Joy.’ After hours of pacing, she was finally able to sit. Amazed by her ability to play the melody, she played it over-and-over again with a huge smile of accomplishment on her face. I was touched by how she’d found some relief from her distress.”

“This is what nurses do,” Iris says. “They tap into their creativity to provide the best care to patients. And seeing that first-hand when I was younger is what made me want to be a nurse to begin with.” While Iris was in high school, she and her family were faced with a loved one suddenly being diagnosed with a psychiatric illness that required hospitalization in an inpatient psychiatric unit. “It was a frightening time. My family is Latino, and at the time none of us were well acquainted with psychiatric illnesses/diagnoses and skeptical regarding mental health interventions such as therapy and psychiatric medications. The nurses where the ones who consistently provided us with the most current updates, earned the greatest trust from my loved one, and fervently advocated for us—they were the ones who served as change-makers for my family.”

Iris notes, “As a Latina and bilingual nurse, I feel passionate about being a resource for families like mine who belong to communities that often still stigmatize mental illnesses—and I strive to make patients and their family members feel heard and empowered so they can live their best lives. I am committed to innovating for better health.”

Random fact: Iris is currently taking Salsa and Latin Hustle classes. She says, “I’d always wanted to learn how to move gracefully to music. It’s a work in progress, but I love the rush of endorphins I get from expressing myself through dance!”