March 1, 2012

Merrill returns to VUMC as chief of staff of Vanderbilt University Hospital

by Nancy Humphrey

Cardiothoracic surgeon Walter Merrill, M.D, a member of the Vanderbilt faculty from 1983 until 2002, is returning to Vanderbilt to become chief of staff of Vanderbilt University Hospital. He assumes the position April 1.

Merrill, who also served as chief of Surgical Services at Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, will also hold a faculty appointment in the Department of Cardiac Surgery.

In 1985, Merrill and William H. Frist, M.D., started Vanderbilt’s cardiac transplantation program. Merrill left Vanderbilt in 2002 to become chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cincinnati. Seven years later, he moved from Cincinnati to Jackson, Miss., to become chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Board certified in general and cardiothoracic surgery, he has special expertise in heart transplant, heart failure and cardiac valve repair. He spearheaded the implementation of the left ventricle assist device program at Mississippi.

At Vanderbilt, he will report to Allen Kaiser, M.D., chief of staff for the Vanderbilt Health System, who formerly held the position as VUH chief of staff, and David Posch, CEO of Vanderbilt University Hospital and Clinics.

“Dr. Merrill is a proven leader in health care,” Kaiser said. “He has led major programs in cardiac surgery and partnered with Dr. Bill Frist and others to initiate cardiac transplantation at Vanderbilt. He is known as a listener and a collaborator and is someone we will look to as we navigate this new phase of health care delivery.”

Merrill said he is grateful for the 19 years he had at Vanderbilt, and looks forward to his return.

“I’m so excited to come back to Vanderbilt, to dive back in and try to make a contribution,” Merrill said. “It’s a fantastic medical center, and I know it’s grown a lot and has gotten bigger and better since I’ve been there,” he said.

“This is a marvelous time to work both as a clinician and as a member of the administrative team helping to solve problems and make our care processes more effective and efficient. I’m looking forward to working with people in various departments and divisions at Vanderbilt to try to increase our collaborative efforts to make everything we do better,” Merrill said.

“I am pleased Dr. Merrill will be rejoining Vanderbilt to contribute his expertise in leading VUH during the upcoming years,” Posch said. “Building on our successes, I look forward to his help in advancing the performance of our hospital to even greater value.”

"We are fortunate to attract Dr. Merrill to be our chief of staff for Vanderbilt University Hospital,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “His commitment to patient care and service is legendary. He will also be a great advocate for the hospital’s medical staff and indeed for all staff as we face the challenge of greater efficiency.”

A native of Andalusia, Ala., Merrill received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1974, where he completed an internship and general and cardiothoracic residency training. He was a research fellow with the National Institutes of Health and served as senior registrar, thoracic surgery, at the Hospital for Sick Children in London.

A member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Society of University Surgeons and the Southern Surgical Association, Merrill is the author of more than 100 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and 16 book chapters, and is on the editorial board of several medical journals.

Merrill and his wife, Morgan, are looking forward to being back in Nashville with three of their four children who live here: Kelly, who works in the Medical Center Office of Medical Alumni Relations; Gibson, who teaches at Nashville’s Oak Hill School; and Hilson, an independent contractor. Their youngest daughter, Mary Knox, lives in Boston and works at Northeastern University.