It’s been quite a ride for Florence “SeeSee” Rigney, who recently ended her 70-year career as a nurse at MultiCare Tacoma General in Washington state at the age of 96, earning her the title of the oldest working nurse in America. Her life is a testament to the commitment and dedication of healthcare providers everywhere. We wish her all the best after seven decades of making the world a better place.
Second Time’s the Charm
Rigney didn’t plan on becoming the oldest nurse in America. She first graduated with her nursing degree in 1946. After decades of working at hospitals across Wyoming and Texas, she decided to call it quits over 30 years ago when she was 65, but her time on the sidelines didn’t last long. She only retired for six months before getting back to work.
“I don’t like to sit around – I’ve always got to have something to do. That’s my nature,” said Rigney. “I don’t know exactly what made me want to become a nurse, but it was something that I always wanted to do. I love to interact with patients and give them the help that I can.”
Rigney has slowed down from time to time, but only to take care of her family, including her two children…but she’d rather be at the hospital than not.
She was also asked to stay at home throughout much of the pandemic, considering her age and the potential risk of infection. However, she kept calling the hospital to ask when she could come back.
“I do miss being there. And I will say that the days go by quickly. I have done continuing education classes since I’ve been at home. I do those on the computer. But it isn’t like being there. And I’d rather be there and be busy,” she said during her time off during the pandemic.
Rigney, who’s used to working mostly in the operating room, admits she couldn’t do a lot of the things she did when she was younger. “I help get the patient in the room, get the monitors on. I do instrument counting, sponge counting, some prep [for] the patient for the surgery that’s to be done. And I tell the young people I’m there to keep them in line,” she said.
Laureen Driscoll, president of MultiCare Tacoma General and Allenmore hospitals, says she’s in awe of Rigney’s reputation for putting her younger colleagues to shame.
“Some of her colleagues joked that they had to sprint to keep up with her,” said Driscoll. “She’s continued to be a dedicated nurse and an incredible resource to her colleagues and community. It’s humbling to stop and think about the thousands and thousands of lives she’s cared for.”
Rigney admits she’s used to walking about three miles every day at work, but now she’ll have to get used to taking it easy.
A Lifetime of Healthcare
Rigney has seen more than her fair share of changes to the system over the last 70 years. She started working in the operating room right as penicillin went mainstream after being invented in 1928, leading to a range of breakthroughs regarding antibiotics.
She says the biggest change she’s seen over the 70 years is how long patients stay in the hospital post-surgery. When she was first starting out, she says patients would usually stay in bed for up to 10 days, but now they tend to go home after just 48 hours.
Despite all her time on the job, Rigney says she never stopped learning.
“Don’t ever think that you know it all,” she said. “I kind of did that when I was in the operating room, and you have to always be open. You never stop learning.”
The hospital says it will create the SeeSee Rigney Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund in her honor. The scholarship will go towards MultiCare nurses and employees pursuing nursing degrees and continuing education.
“Everyone at MultiCare thanks SeeSee for her unmatched dedication and service, and we’re proud to honor her by supporting tomorrow’s future nurses,” Driscoll added.
Visit their website to donate to the scholarship and support Rigney’s legacy.