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From their respective fields of medicine and bioethics, physician scholar Richard Payne and professor-author Allen Verhey have joined Duke Divinity School’s renowned faculty at the intersection of these important fields.

Photo by Les Todd

 Richard Payne (left),a pioneering physician in palliative care for cancer patients,and Allen Verhey,an ordained theologian and prolific scholar,recently joined the faculty.Payne is the Colliflower director of the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life; Verhey is professor of Christian ethics.

Two of Duke Divinity School’s newest faculty members, Richard Payne and Allen Verhey, began their lives and careers on strongly contrasting tracks.

Payne is a pioneering physician in pain management and palliative care, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and has spent much of his career in the New York City area. Verhey is an ordained theologian and professor who spent most of his life and career in the Midwest.  

Yet these two scholars have come to Duke Divinity School united in purpose: to study and teach about the ways in which medical and faith communities care for the sick and dying. Each hopes to reach out through his own expertise to improve that care.  

“End-of-life care isn’t just about medical care,” says Verhey, a professor of Christian ethics. “It’s about congregational care.”

“We all need to share knowledge and influence better treatment for the terminally ill and their families,” says Payne, director of the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, a multi-disciplinary program based in the divinity school. “Currently there is far too much fragmentation in the system.” 

Superficially, these two scholars might appear to have little in common, said Dean L. Gregory Jones. “But when you consider the full body of their academic work, their accomplishments, and what they have to say about the way our society should be taking care of people, you realize that they complement each other wonderfully.”

Payne and Verhey have joined the divinity school’s already strong faculty working at the intersection of religion and health—Amy Laura Hall, assistant professor of theological ethics; Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe professor of theological ethics; Keith Meador, director of the school’s Theology and Medicine program; and James Travis, clinical professor of pastoral care. 

In the Shadow of New York City

Payne grew up in the shadow of New York City with 13 brothers and sisters. His home was in a segregated neighborhood of Elizabeth, N.J., which, fortunately, offered an advantage to a young man interested in science and medicine. Because many of the city’s African American residents were neighbors, Payne says, his role models included three physicians and a mortician who also was head of the local branch of the NAACP.

“I had plenty of models who lived just down the street,” says Payne, now 53. “It wasn’t an enormous imaginative leap to think that I could be a doctor too.”

Payne earned an undergraduate degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University in 1973 and his medical degree at Harvard in 1977. He then embarked on a distinguished medical career that led him to become the head of pain and palliative care service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York—the post he held until coming to Duke Divinity.

Although he had planned to become a neurosurgeon, Payne’s experiences in medical residency led him to consider more deeply issues such as pain management and care for those near death. Sometimes he formed his opinions based on observing excellent care and pain relief; at other times, examples of less effective treatment were equally instructive.

“That ... was a window for me into the world of pain and suffering and how the impact of disease was reflected in individuals,” Payne says. “Some people could be undergoing a bone marrow transplant and endure excruciating pain, but stay optimistic because they had hope. Take the same person without hope and they saw their pain very differently.”

He also learned that doctors must do more than perform operations and prescribe medicine. Each patient needs to be considered as an individual, he says, especially those who are near death.

“You can’t just give morphine and think you’re going to impact every patient the same way,” he says.

In the following years Payne wrote more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, abstracts and reviews. He also has lectured around the world on research and clinical aspects of pain treatment and other forms of care and has been recognized with dozens of major awards.

“In care for the dying there are a lot of Lone Rangers who run in and out and there’s hardly time to ask ‘Who was that masked man?’”

— Allen Verhey, professor of Christian ethics

He serves on the executive committee of the  board of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the board of the National Coalition of Cancer Survivors, and he is a commissioner with the National Quality Forum task force on long-term care. These appointments—as well as his leadership role in the Institute on Care at the End of Life—position Payne to help shape national policy and public opinion on issues related to treatment of chronic illness and the relief of suffering.  

Mixing Ministry & Bioethics

Allen Verhey, one of four children raised in a Grand Rapids, Mich. family, attended a day school supported by the Christian Reformed Church. When he was a high school senior attending a summer Bible camp (because, he admits, a certain young woman—who later became his wife—had decided to attend) a minister said that Verhey should join the clergy. The idea stayed with him long after that summer.

“Try as I might, I just never could get that idea  out of my head,” says Verhey, now 59. “I already  was formed in the church, but what that minister  said shaped my life.”

Verhey graduated from Calvin College in 1966 and Calvin Theological Seminary in 1969. He earned a Ph.D. in religious studies and Christian ethics from Yale in 1975. He was ordained to the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church; in 1994 he became a minister in the Reformed Church of America.  

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Winter 2004 Volume 3 Number 2 Duke Divinity School