This alumni spotlight is part of our celebration of the Temple BSN program’s 50th anniversary. Read more stories here.
Jim Sweeney, a 1994 graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the College of Public Health, has committed much of his career to ensuring that people receive vaccinations. After working at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health for a decade, Sweeney is now an Executive Multi-Specialty Vaccine Representative at Merck.
Here, Sweeney discusses what he gained from his Temple Nursing degree. He also explains how nurses are uniquely positioned to lead important public health campaigns like increasing vaccination rates in Philadelphia.
What is your role at Merck?
I teach pharmacists, physicians and nurses how to use the Merck vaccine portfolio, and it’s a lot of fun. I often do presentations for large groups. Every time I do, I get motivated. You have a sense that you’re going to light a fire under somebody.
It’s like the Acres of Diamonds lecture, which everybody at Temple had to read: You can’t stop. You have to keep looking and you have to keep striving and trying no matter what. Despite all of the “no’s” you might hear, you continue and keep your energy high, and you know that you’re going to reach someone.
And what that means to me is that in that group of 70 or 100 pharmacists, one or two of them will catch fire. Because of that, people will be protected from death and disabling disease because they get vaccinated.
While working at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, you created opportunities for nursing students to participate in the city vaccine programs. Why was it important for you to get nursing students involved?
Every year, the city had an influenza and pneumococcal immunization project. It was based in the communities and there were 250 separate sites where residents—mostly seniors—could get immunized. The area nursing and medical schools would volunteer staff to come and man those sites. It was a big undertaking. The last year I was there, there were 19,500 immunizations administered and over 400 volunteers.
The students were a critical part of getting those shots done and it created an opportunity for them to give intramuscular injections, which they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It was a wonderful experience to be able to do that.
What was your role in putting that program together?
When I started working at the Department of Public Health, there was only a small number of community-based clinics. The mission given to the program was to increase that. So, we partnered with area community-based organizations in the African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American communities to increase the reach and scope of individuals to get vaccinated.
The year before we started there were 20 sites and 400 people got vaccinated . Ten years later it was 19,500 vaccinations and 250 sites with all these individuals pulling together to make it happen. It was very exciting.
What were some of the highlights of being a Temple BSN student?
This is probably something that everybody who went to Temple says: The diverse students and faculty was one of the highlights for me. Being exposed to people from multiple cultures and ethnicities—and then getting to work side by side with them as students and in clinical settings—was so rewarding.
It was the perfect springboard for me to hit the ground running: the ability to interact with patients from multiple and diverse cultures and ethnicities. Part of the reason that happened was because of that diversity at Temple.
The education I got was bar-none terrific. The professors, as a rule, did a fantastic job preparing us to be nurses. They set the bar high, and I’m glad that they did.