Oldest Working Nurse in America Hangs Up Her Scrubs After 70 Years

More than 70 years after her career began, 96-year-old Florence “SeeSee” Rigney, the oldest working nurse in America, is retiring, MultiCare Health System announced today.  Her last day was Friday, July 16, 2021.

“I don’t like to sit around – I’ve always got to have something to do. That’s my nature,” Rigney’s said. “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.”

In her retirement, she’s looking forward to enjoying her family and friends. Rigney’s witnessed countless changes and medical innovations since she first put on the white uniform of a student nurse in the Tacoma General School of Nursing. And her legacy will live on to inspire the next generation of nurses.

In appreciation for her service to the nursing profession, MultiCare Health System is establishing the SeeSee Rigney Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide scholarships to MultiCare nurses for continued learning and development and for MultiCare employees who would like to pursue a career in nursing.

“Even working into her nineties, SeeSee has never been one to slow down. Some of her colleagues joked that they had to sprint to keep up with her,” said Laureen Driscoll, president of MultiCare Tacoma General and Allenmore Hospitals. “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. Everyone at MultiCare thanks SeeSee for her unmatched dedication and service, and we’re proud to honor her by supporting tomorrow’s future nurses.”

Her career has taken her across the country, from Washington to Texas to Wyoming, with small breaks to care for her family. Rigney has two children.  As an operating room nurse, Rigney was responsible setting up operating rooms to the specifications of surgeons and prepping patients for surgery, such as positioning them on the operating table. During her shifts, she was always active, frequently walking more than three miles or more according to her Fitbit. And she was always the first to jump to a task. When and pregnant nurse made a call to hospital nurses to help her move a patient, Rigney, in her nineties, was the first to show up.

Rigney did try to slow down once. When she was 65, she turned in her retirement papers. But that only lasted for about six months. She knew she needed to get back in action to stay sharp and active. She came back to Tacoma General to work full time and only within the last couple years switched to part time, continuing to prep surgery rooms and patients, part time. She worked again as an operating room nurse, preparing rooms for surgery and filling in as a relief nurse.

When Rigney started nursing, penicillin had just been introduced. One of the biggest changes in medicine that she’s seen is the duration of patient stays. In the old days, she said, patients could stay for 10 days or longer after surgery. Now most go home in a day or two, thanks to advances in modern medicine and in-home care options.

In a career spanning 70 years, you pick up quite a bit of knowledge and Rigney has some to share with future nurses.

“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.”