From executive suite to nursing, student still wants to make a difference

At 50, Jim O'Neill left Apple Computer for the School of Nursing.
At 50, Jim O'Neill left Apple Computer for the School of Nursing. Marsha Miller

The company mantra when Jim O'Neill joined Apple Computer was "the journey is the reward."

It's much the same for him now even though he is far from the hills of Silicon Valley where he was part of the technology hub as Apple's vice president for worldwide logistics. At age 50, O'Neill decided to change careers, but still wanted to have personal contact with people.

This is his plan when he graduates in May from the School of Nursing.

"I'm not comfortable with two wordscareer and retirement," said O'Neill. "I'm a type A personality and just can't sit still."

He admits this will be the first time he has not had a six-figure income, but "if I wanted to chase the dollars, I'd go back to what I was doing."

O'Neill will graduate with a master's degree in nursing as a clinical nurse specialist. While in school, he worked at the Heart Hospital of Austin. He is now interning with a local cardiologist who makes house calls and will continue full-time after graduation.

"I truly enjoy working with people, both in terms of individual patient interaction and as a member of a medical team," he said.

After receiving a business degree from Vanderbilt University in 1976, O'Neill got a master's degree in finance from the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. At Apple, he managed customer support, order management, warehousing, logistics and transportation operations in Ireland, the Netherlands, Tokyo, Singapore, Toronto, Miami, Chicago, Sacramento and Austin. He also opened the company's U.S. Customer Support Center in Austin.

In addition to being a vice president at Apple Computer, he was chief operating officer at HumanCode where his customers included Disney, Mattel, Dell and Motorola, and was director of the American Cancer Society's Quitline.

"I have been fortunate," O'Neill said. "I have been vice president of a Fortune 500 company, worked for a non-profit and for a couple of local venture capital-funded startups. But, as I reflect on my past experiences, the pursuits that have been the most meaningful for me personally are those which put me in direct contact with people."

O'Neill believes he can find the same intellectual stimulation with the complex medical field as he found with technology. He entered the School of Nursing Alternate Entry Master of Science Program, which provides a pathway for a student with a non-nursing baccalaureate degree to become a registered nurse and then obtain a master's degree.

"The program allows individuals with a diversity of backgrounds an entry into a very rewarding field," O'Neill said. "And beyond the obvious gratification of delivering relief to someone in need, I also feel like there is a higher sense of calling with nursing.

"The current shortage of health-care professionals and the decreasing affordability of medical insurance, present a very critical social need within the community. There is a compelling societal need, just as I believe there was with the advent of personal computing technology."

O'Neill first became attracted to the field of medicine and health after an experience on a sailing trip with his wife. He witnessed someone having a stroke and took notice of the prolonged time before the individual received care. Wanting to become trained in first aid, O'Neill enrolled in an emergency medical training course and then paramedic school. He still is a volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) paramedic at university football games.

"As much as I enjoyed the EMS experience, the occasional long pauses between calls are difficult to endure," he said. "I need to be active and busy. The constant flow and immediacy of the emergency room and triage were more to my liking."

O'Neill knows he is older than most of his fellow nursing students, but he's used to that.

"At 34 years old, I was older at Apple, too," he said. "I'm used to being the grizzled senior, so that is no problem."

"It has always been important for me that there be a 'for the sake of what' associated with any opportunity that I pursued," O'Neill said. "In nursing, I have felt again that 'for the sake of what.'"