Inger Rao’s corner office at Osceola Regional Medical Center has no windows, but her view of the hospital is incomparable.
It comes from 51 years of experience as a nurse there. Rao, other staff and community members celebrated Osceola Regional’s 85th anniversary last week. The longtime operating room nurse and educator was honored for her decades of service and dedication, not only to the hospital but to the people it serves.
“I love the hospital, that’s what keeps me here. It’s like a second home,” she told the News-Gazette.
Rao has been a part of the hospital’s evolution over the decades – from a tiny community hospital to a Level II Trauma Center that’s growing in step with Osceola County.
Now owned by Hospital Corporation of America, Osceola Regional first opened its doors in 1933, when little more than 10,000 people lived in Osceola County.
By the time Rao joined the staff in 1967, the population had doubled, but Kissimmee was still just a sleepy little “cow town.”
“I used to know everybody by name when we were small,” she said.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Rao and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 10 years old.
She met her husband, Robert, while attending the University of Minnesota and the two married in 1965.
Rao’s father in law, Dr. John O. Rao, owned the hospital at the time, so the couple decided to move to Kissimmee to start their family and careers.
“Robert’s dad used to buy Christmas presents for everyone on staff and would cook big Italian meals for medical meetings,” she said.
Rao cut her teeth in nursing at Osceola General while her husband went to law school at Stetson University.
The couple had three children and are now grandparents to nine grandchildren. After a few years on the job, Rao discovered her passion – the operating room.
“I feel like I was born and raised in the operating room. It’s my love,” she said.
She still works in surgery and trains nurses and doctors on operating room procedures, such as “time outs” when surgical teams must follow certain protocols to ensure the success of an operation.
After more than five decades as a nurse, Rao is fascinated by the ever-expanding role of technology in hospitals and in the healthcare industry in general. “Some of the things they’re doing with robotic surgery are amazing,” said Rao, whose job requires constant learning. “Nursing has become very specialized.”
But the common denominator in the field is a call to care. Whether in an intensive care unit or delivery room, a doctor’s office or a nursing home, a nurse often is a lifeline to patients and their families.
With a semi-retired husband and nine grandchildren, one might think Rao would be ready to retire. Quite the opposite.
“I can’t let go. It’s part of me,” Rao said. “It’s the patients. In a way they give you energy. Even if you’re not my patient, I want to hold your hand and be there with you,” Rao said. “It’s been wonderful. I’ve been so blessed.”