April 6, 2017

VUMC mourns loss of Transplant Center’s Payne

Jerita Payne, MSN, ACNP, MMHC, director of Clinical Transplant Services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), died March 22 after a brief illness. She was 54.

Jerita Payne, MSN, ACNP, MMHC, director of Clinical Transplant Services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), died March 22 after a brief illness. She was 54.

Jerita Payne, MSN, ACNP, MMHC

Payne joined Vanderbilt in 1986 as a staff nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Step Down/Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. As years passed, she focused on clinical transplantation, earning her Master of Science degree and becoming VUMC’s first advanced practice nurse in the newly established hepatobiliary surgery and liver transplant program in 1990.

“Jerita was a warm, caring and consummate professional who always considered her patients and colleagues first. She was a founding member of our Liver Transplant program who went on to become an outstanding leader in the Transplant Center, playing an instrumental role in the center’s growth and many successes. We will miss her terribly,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “The best way for us to honor her legacy, and the many lives she impacted, is by continuing to keep our patients at the center of everything we do.”

A native of Johnson City, Tennessee, Payne completed her nursing prerequisites at Milligan College in 1983 and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1986. She earned her Master of Science from Vanderbilt University in 1990 and completed her Master of Management in Health Care at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management in 2013.

“The bright light of the transplant center over a period of 25 years, Jerita was an essential partner in the development and success of the transplant center,” said Seth Karp, M.D., H. William Scott Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery and director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center. “She was a gentle soul who was a force of nature as an advocate for her patients and staff. Those who knew her were uplifted and will carry her memory and values forward as her legacy.”

Payne was VUMC’s first liver transplant coordinator and served as a pioneer for advance practice nursing in transplant.

“Not only was she one of the first nurse practitioners in transplant at Vanderbilt, but among the first in the country,” said Heather O’Dell, ACNP, MMHC, lead nurse practitioner, Liver Transplant Program at VUMC. “She helped shape what the role looks like today.”

O’Dell said it was well known that Payne’s work was a top priority, but she also paid very close attention to her staff.

“What I will miss most is hearing her heels coming down the hallway. It was always around 5 p.m. It was her way of rounding on us to make sure we were taking care of ourselves and making sure we weren’t staying too late. Everybody knows her footsteps. There is such a void there,” O’Dell said.

April DeMers first met Payne nearly 20 years ago as a student working on her master’s degree. She needed a preceptor and was matched with Payne.

“What started out as an incredible mentorship blossomed into a lifetime friendship,” said DeMers, R.N., MSN, ACNP, in the Adult Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at Vanderbilt.
“She was such a fearless advocate for her patients, her employees and for nursing,” she said.

“She embodied expertise, kindness and tenacity all rolled into one. It’s a rare combination and we will never have another one like her. She led by example in everything that she did. She was the fiber of the Transplant Center.”

Payne authored and co-authored several publications on liver transplantation and the role of advanced practice nurses. She also spoke at various conferences and was a member of a multitude of professional organizations including American Nurses Association and American Society of Transplantation.

In 2009 she was named Advanced Practice Nurse of the Year at Vanderbilt and Nurse Researcher of the Year at Vanderbilt in 1995.

Payne was preceded in death by her mother, Vanita Scott Payne. She is survived by her father, Luther Payne; brother John Payne and wife, Tammie; niece Katie Payne Boone and husband Josh, all of Johnson City, Tennessee.

A memorial celebration will be held on April 28 from 3-5 p.m. at Vanderbilt’s Benton Chapel. A reception will follow in the Reading Room at the Divinity School.

In recognition of her life, the Medical Center established the Jerita Payne Fellowship for Transplant Nurse Practitioners. The one-year fellowship is set to accept its first student in October.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to “The Jerita Payne Education Fund for Transplant Nurses” at VUMC Gift and Donor Services, 2525 West End Ave., Suite 450, Nashville, Tennessee, 37203. In addition, donations to the Nashville Humane Society can be made at