Nurse Dana DeRuvo: Fire Island Union Free School District

Nurse Dana DeRuvo
Dana DeRuvo, Nurse of Fire Island School.
Photo by Shoshanna McCollum

At Fire Island School District, Registered Nurse Dana DeRuvo plays an essential caring for all within the walls of Woodhull Elementary School and well beyond.


Nurses Week often brings a picture to mind of the frontline workers in hospitals, medical practice offices, and other treatment and care centers. All of these roles are well deserved, but the nurses that keep watch on our kids at school are sometimes overlooked. Their job goes well beyond treating children’s scraped knees from the playground, and all the more so when the school is tucked away in a remote location.


“I wanted to be a nurse since I was 14 or 15,” said DeRuvo. “I’m the oldest of six children, so I was always a caretaker for my siblings. It just, it felt like a natural progression for me.”Like many who grew up in the Bay Shore-Brightwaters area, she developed a close connection to Fire Island early on, working as a mother’s helper for a family in Dunewood during her teenage years in the 1970s. In adulthood, she and her husband Joe would settle in Kismet, which is now their home for eight months out of the year.


On the slender barrier beach that is Fire Island, Woodhull Elementary School is among one of the smallest schools on Long Island. It averages about 50 students, with a population comprised of the kids of year of year-round families within Fire Island’s 17 residential communities, as well as children of families assigned to the Fire Island’s U.S. Coast Guard Station barracks, and also pupils enrolled on a tuition paying basis who come from greater Long Island.


With such a small student body “Nurse Dana” (as she is commonly referred to in Woodhull School) knows them all well.


“I greet the children in the morning and as soon as they come in,” says Nurse Dana. “As a nurse always assessing, seeing things other people may not pick up on. When they come through the door, I see how they’re dressed, what their appearance is like that day, and how they are behaving. If something’s a little off, I’m going to know it. Because we have a small school, I know every student here as well as their families.”


Nurse Dana is also keenly aware that the school nurse also serves as an educator as well. In many cases the school nurse is also an early guiding voice in lessons of self-care and hygiene that young minds will receive, while having the backs of their parents as well.


“Last year we had the Smile List, come in and talk with the students and get demonstrations,” she explained. “I’ve also written away to Colgate and received an ample supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste samples to give the kids. Whenever a student here loses a tooth, I give them a little tooth saver and a new toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s an exciting thing for them.”


“Nutrition is also so important, and especially here where we don’t have a lunch or program,” she continued. “Families really need to pack up food for the entire day. That includes snacks and adequate liquids. We have families with two or three children here and some of them come from the mainland. So that’s a lot of work for a parent. These students have a long day and need a lot of good food to keep them going. Sometimes because I can observe that some students only bringing the same food every single day and it may not be the most nutritious choice to sustain their bodies for healthy growth and development. I get to know these families pretty well, and hope that they have trust in me and understand I’m coming to them from a place of concern for their child’s health and safety. I usually find that they’re very receptive to what I’m telling them.”


Every nurse’s career path is different. Before coming to Woodhull School Dana DeRuvo was working as maternal child health nurse from Montefiore Home Healthcare in the Bronx.


“I would walk up and down six flights of stairs with my computer, my baby scale, and under not the most ideal conditions,” she explained. “Nursing is not what it used to be.”


However, in 2016 she started subbing for the Nurse Practitioner who held the position before her, then was hired full-time in 2021 when her predecessor retired.


“Now, I see foxes outside my window, beautiful birds and deer of course. And it’s just an ideal setting. I’m so fortunate to have this job.”


Being the school nurse also means DeRuvo manages important aspects of building safety, making sure all faculty and staff have their required CPR, defibrillator and EpiPen training in place and up to date.


And like all school nurses on Fire Island that proceeded her, Nurse Dana finds herself a caretaker in her community as well.


“I have constant visitors at my door 24/7 in Kismet because things happen,” she smiles. “People get splinters, they stub their toes, they fall, get cuts – anything. So, I always have a backpack ready to go, and I’ve done many medical procedures on my front deck. That’s just, it’s how we roll.”


Then of course, caring for others begins at home. Dana brims with pride as she talks about her youngest son Jackson, who is the proprietor of the popular Kismet Coffee Company. Jackson opened a year-round shop in Bay Shore last November and his enterprise continues to expand as they open a kiosk in Ocean Beach Trading this season. Her daughter Rachel who lives in Tampa, is working towards her PhD in special education, and plans to get married next February. Finally, there is Nicholas, Dana’s other son, who was born severely disabled and is now back with God. His picture has a prominent place at her desk always.


“I keep his spirit alive inside of me and I know he’s in a better, safe place. His journey was complete and to me, he’s still with me,” says Dana. “When I thought I had it the worst, I’ve always found it was somebody else that didn’t have the education or resources that I had, or didn’t have the family support. Maybe they didn’t know the language, or that lived on a six -floor walk-up and had to carry a special needs child up and down those stairs. Somebody else always has it harder. Compassion and empathy are key to letting people know you understand what they’re going through.”


Time marches on and soon another grade will graduate from Woodhull School and Dana’s lessons in compassion will most surely leave an enduring imprint.