O’Connell has many memories from her time in the Air Force. She worked as a Level 1 Trauma Emergency Room nurse in San Antonio. This is where she learned about caring for emergency & trauma patients. During her career, she also experienced flying aeromedical evacuation missions around Europe, helping new nurses transition into the Air Force, caring for the wounded while she was deployed to the trauma Emergency Department in Balad, Iraq, and serving as the Research Director for a medical center. Orienting and teaching new nurses was one of the highlights of her career along with teaching life support classes and assisting others with research projects. During her last military assignment, she completed nurse educator certificate classes and taught as a part-time faculty member. This is where she discovered how much she enjoyed teaching.
After retiring from the service, O’Connell pursued a career in academia and made the decision to pursue a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) degree. In addition, O’Connell decided to take this career path because of the sheer number of veterans who die by suicide. “I was appalled,” reflects O’Connell. After discovering that there were not enough mental health providers available to assist these veterans, she decided she had to do something to help. “These brave men and women are my heroes and they deserve nothing but respect and gratitude for what they have sacrificed. I also feel that, as a veteran, they may be more comfortable working with me.”