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UF College of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor David Derrico, MSN, BSN, CNE, RN, never believed he would become a nurse more than four decades ago, but now he can almost comfortably say he has “seen and done it all.”
Educating students during a pandemic. Check. Inspiring several generations of nurses. Check. Now, finishing a 31-year career as a beloved faculty member, mentor and friend before retirement is the last box to mark off on his list.
Maestro of His Own Path
The Gator Nurse originally thought his career would involve playing instruments before he faced the music.
“My goal was to be a symphony musician, but it’s really difficult to get jobs,” Derrico said. “That’s when I knew that I would need to find a new direction.”
After being convinced by a close friend at 23 years old, Derrico paid a visit to a Navy recruiter and signed up to become a hospital corpsman, a clinical position working in a Navy Hospital and training to work alongside U.S. Marines, as a “Plan B.” Even though he had never considered a career in health care before, he soon fell in love with his decision once he shipped out.
Derrico found himself in Bethesda, Maryland, for most of his tour of duty, performing duties such as administering vaccines and working on medical surgical units at The National Naval Medical Center. But despite the many different roles he played each day, teaching clinical nursing and nursing skills were his favorite activities.
After completing his four years of service with the Navy, Derrico returned with only one goal in mind: complete nursing school to become a full-time nurse and fully immerse himself in his new passion. He took his first step to enter the world of health care by earning his BSN from the University of the State of New York in 1985.
After graduation, he became a hospital nurse working med-surg, pediatric and intensive care floors of various hospitals in Maryland and Delaware. Although he enjoyed working at the bedside, Derrico could not scratch his itch to educate. He later gained his first taste of college-level instruction at the UF College of Nursing, when he took a course on teaching clinical skills to undergraduate nurses while enrolled as a graduate student pursuing his MSN degree in 1987.
“I just loved it, I felt so at home and was successful,” Derrico said. “When I graduated, there was a job offering at UF for a clinical educator. I applied, got the job and I’ve been teaching ever since.”
The rest, according to him, is “history.”
A Guiding Light for Gator Nurses
Once Derrico arrived at the College of Nursing, his name became synonymous with Gator Nursing excellence in just a few short years, helping inspire generations of nurses.
Derrico has found himself at the lecture podium for a variety of UF College of Nursing classes, most notably pathophysiology. He also honed his bedside skills as a clinical instructor for students at UF Health Shands and a health assessment educator in the skills lab.
Every day is different, whether learning clinical skills within the walls of a classroom or interacting with patients, Derrico said. His students are always up for the challenge.
“After eight hours on the floor, my students are always ready for more,” he said. “That’s how I like things to be.”
Derrico keeps a mental list of his student’s successes throughout his three decade-long career. He has seen hundreds of students achieve what they never thought possible during their first clinical experiences, from bringing high blood pressures down, to starting IVs and assisting nurses on the floor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meeting Gator Nurses “where they are” to address areas for improvement has been especially rewarding, he said.
The thing he will miss the most about teaching? Helping each student find their confidence to push forward in the face of a challenge — and hearing them excitedly enjoy another victory.
“During clinical, Professor Derrico would make his rounds with the students and everyone knew that when it was your time — you better be ready,” said Christen Becerra, RN (BSN 2021) Derrico’s former clinical group student and a current registered nurse on the bone marrow transplant unit at UF Health. “He was always genuinely interested in what was going on with your patient and would ask rapid-fire questions that would lead to amazing conversations. Professor Derrico made learning fun. I’ve never met another professor who cared so much about the advancement of their students.”
In addition, some alumni credit Derrico’s teaching philosophy to their decision to follow in his footsteps to become a nurse educator. Former student and current College of Nursing Associate Professor Jennifer Dungan, PhD, MSN, BSN (BSN 2001, MSN 2002, PhD 2006) modeled her entry into academia after Derrico and is thankful for his exceptional example.
“For many of us, Professor Derrico was a hallmark in our nursing program,” Dungan said. “He didn’t just teach us information, he helped guide us through difficult problems in the classroom and challenging situations in clinical settings. I’ll never forget the lines outside of his office during office hours, and the patience and investment he had for each one of us, even when you were the last in line. He truly shaped the kind of professor I am today, as I try to make genuine, supportive connections with students while guiding them to achieve their greatest potential.”
Like Dungan, thousands of Gator Nurses can recall his lessons in their clinical practice. Several “Derricoisms” have even stuck around over the years, such as “cancer patients clot and liver patients bleed,” a pneumonic to help clinicians remember how to best care for certain patients they encounter. Some students still mention hearing Derrico’s voice in their heads while caring for patients in their own careers, still guiding them to make the right decisions years after graduation.
“I think there are a few critical bits of information that we, as health care providers, need to have at the forefront of patient care,” Derrico said. “I like to highlight that information and repeat it to students until they are repeating it to themselves, like second nature. Knowing that they still remember is incredibly touching.”
However, Gator Nurses are not the only ones who have learned lifelong lessons — Derrico said he feels inspired by what he has absorbed from his students after years of educating.
“There is no higher honor than to educate the next generation of Gator Nurses,” Derrico said. “It’s always exciting and rewarding. It’s actually just as exciting as it was in the 1990s.”
Leaving a Legacy
Honoring his teaching excellence, Derrico has received numerous accolades throughout the years, including being named Teacher of the Year every year from 2009-2015, receiving the college’s inaugural DAISY Award for Outstanding and Compassionate Clinical Teaching in 2020 and, most recently, earning the inaugural College of Nursing Innovation Award in Service for his work with the Academic Partnership Unit, a collaborative effort with UF Health to prepare new generations of nurses.
Most Gator Nursing alumni from the past 30 years can recall a moment they have had with Derrico in one of his classes. But college faculty and staff also remember Derrico’s impact — and aspire to live up to the example he leaves behind.
Passionate. Compassionate. Considerate. These are three words used to describe Derrico’s disposition, which his former colleagues say is known to all who worked alongside him.
“David Derrico is an exceptional teacher who makes strong and lasting connections with students,” said Associate Professor and Chair of the Biobehavioral Nursing Science Department Ann Horgas, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, FAAN. “In addition to being brilliant, Professor Derrico is humble and kind. He always looked out for others, most notably the students but also his colleagues and peers.”
Serving under three college deans during his tenure, Derrico also serves as an inspiration to college leadership, which will continue even after his departure.
“One simply does not mention the name Professor Derrico without fanfare, and for good reason,” said Anna McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN, College of Nursing dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Chair. “David Derrico has embodied what it means to be a Gator Nurse from the very first moment he arrived, and I am so grateful for the time we have all had with him at the college. David always puts our students first, and I know his legacy will be ever present within the walls of the College of Nursing.”
From 1991 to 2022, Derrico has impacted the lives of over 5,000 students. Now officially entering his first days of retirement, he hopes the special mark he leaves on the College of Nursing will withstand the test of time.
He hopes to now build a musical legacy, fulfilling his dream to have his own string quartet: All four of his children chose to follow in his footsteps and play string instruments, one of whom plays professionally in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. Now, with retirement, Derrico has time to pick up his flute and bassoon once again — music to his ears.
“All this time, the instruments have been sitting on the shelf, untouched.” Derrico said. “We’ll see what happens with them in retirement.”