Melanie Lutenbacher   PhD, MSN, APRN, FAAN

Associate Professor of Nursing, Emerita


Joining VUSN in 1993, with a secondary appointment with VUSM in 2005, Dr. Lutenbacher's passion to improve and save the lives of underserved childbearing women and their children has driven her integration of research, teaching, practice, and service to shape and inform countless students, faculty, policies, and healthcare systems. Supported by federal and foundation grants, her community-based research with abused women, children with special health care needs (CSHCN) and home visitation strategies for at-risk pregnant women impacts health policy and practices at multiple levels. Now a national model, she helped establish, by statute, Davidson's County Domestic Abuse Death Review Team which annually recommends system policy changes. She remains a mayoral appointee to the team. Her home visitation protocols guide healthcare delivery to thousands of women. She serves on numerous steering committees related to maternal/child health, advancement of women, CSHCN, and Medicaid services; and is the board president of Family Voices of Tennessee.  She has been recognized with VUSN and community awards for her exceptional mentoring, working with mentees from multiple disciplines across VU and beyond. She has taught across all levels and programs at VUSN through her multiple roles including Director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program and the Director of the PhD in Nursing Science Program. Recognition for her contributions to improve the health of underserved women and their children include: 2009 induction into the American Academy of Nursing, 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Kentucky, and the 2013 March of Dimes Nurse of the Year Award for Nursing Research. Dr. Lutenbacher retired from her tenured position in 2020. She continues her work on federally funded projects, teaching in the DNP program and mentoring students across VUSN programs, VU and beyond.


  • PhD, University of Kentucky
  • MSN, California State University-Long Beach (FNP)
  • BSN, The University of Texas at Austin

Current Research/Scholarly Interests

  • Community and home-based interventions to prevent or reduce known risks associated with preterm births, at-risk parenting, family violence and infant mortality
  • Family-centered systems of care for high-risk families (e.g., abuse/violence, children with special healthcare needs, poverty)
  • Maternal psychosocial predictors of abusive or at-risk parenting including depressive symptoms, stress, and self esteem
  • Program efficacy and implementation fidelity
  • Program evaluation

Academic Interests

Dr. Lutenbacher currently teaches in the DNP program and mentors PhD students. Her teaching efforts focus on legal and ethical issues related to advanced nursing practice and research. She actively mentors graduate students and faculty from a variety of disciplines on different aspects of the research process and program development and evaluation.


Vanderbilt Nursing Education Program - Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (VEP-SANE).  Schorn, M. (PI). Lutenbacher, M. (Project Evaluator). HRSA, Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Grant. 2018-2021. Ongoing. 

Evaluating the Maternal Infant Outreach Worker (MIHOW): A 'Promising Approach.' Russo, P. - PI (Catholic Charities, Nashville, TN). Funder: State of Tennessee, Division of Family Health and Wellness. 2017 - 2021, Lutenbacher, PI - VUSN evaluation subcontract: Evaluating the feasibility and efficacy of the MIHOW program in a sample of Hispanic women via a randomized clinical trial. (Federal MIECHV - Promising Approaches Project). Completed.

Evaluating the Maternal Infant Outreach Worker (MIHOW): A 'Promising Approach.' Sinclair, W. - PI (Catholic Charities, Nashville, TN). Funder: State of Tennessee, Division of Family Health and Wellness. 2013 - 2016, Lutenbacher, PI - VUSN evaluation subcontract: Evaluating the feasibility and efficacy of the MIHOW program in a sample of Hispanic women via a randomized clinical trial. (Federal MIECHV - Promising Approaches Project)

Evaluating Nurses for Newborns: A 'Promising Approach.' Wilkins, L - PI. Funder: State of Tennessee, Division of Family Health and Wellness. 2013 - 2016, Consultant - Fidelity Evaluator.

Family to Family - Assessing challenges of TN families served by TN-CSS. Westlake, C. - PI. Funder: State of Tennessee, Division of Family Health and Wellness. 2012 - 2016, Consultant.

Perspectives of Black women on breastfeeding support from pediatric providers. Lutenbacher, M. and Karp, S. - Co-PI's. Funder: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. 2013 - 2014.

Lutenbacher, M. and Hamilton, J. Planning the evaluation of a community-based prenatal intervention: Best Baby Shower. Lutenbacher, M/Hamilton, J. - coPIs. Funder: Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, Partnership Development Grant. 2014-2015.

Building evaluation capacity for evidence based interventions. Beaver, V. - PI. Funder: SAMHSA and Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. 2012 - 2013, Consultant.

Supporting evidence-based home visitation to prevent child maltreatment in South Carolina. ($2.9 million) Williams, S. - PI (South Carolina Children's Trust) Funder: HHS: Administration for Children and Families. 2009 - 2013, Grant evaluator/researcher -PI-subcontract.

Reducing preterm births through the Tennessee Connection for Better Birth Outcomes: A randomized clinical trial. Lutenbacher, M., and Temple, P. - Co-PI's. Funder: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation. 2006 - 2013.

The Tennessee Family-to-Family Health Information Center. Westlake, C. - PI (TN Disability Coalition) Funder: HRSA - Maternal Child Health Bureau. 2002-2010. Grant Evaluator/researcher -PI-subcontract. ($160,000 - subcontract).

Representative Publications


(* indicates data-based, senior author underlined) 

*Rajendran, S., Lutenbacher, M., Dietrich, M.S. (in press). Sociodemographic characteristics and maternal factors associated with postpartum depressive symptoms in Hispanic women. Hispanic Healthcare International.

Graf, M., Karp, S, Lutenbacher, M, Wasser, H., Bushaw, A., Dietrich, M.S. (in press). Clinical Strategies for Addressing Obesity in Infants and Toddlers. The Nurse Practitioner.

*Myers, L., Karp, S.M., Dietrich, M., Looman, W., Lutenbacher, M. (2020). Family-Centered Care: How Close Do We Get When Talking to Parents of Children Undergoing Diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorders? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

*McClure, N., Lutenbacher, M., Smith, K. (2020; epub). Academic Practice Partnerships for Chronic Disease Management Education: Perspectives of faculty, providers, and student participants. Public Health Nursing,

 *Bushaw, A., Lutenbacher, M., Karp, S., Dietrich, M., Graf, M. (2020). Infant Feeding Beliefs and Practices: Effects of Maternal Personal Characteristics. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing. Epub 2020 May 4. doi:10.1111/jspn.12294.

 *McClure, N., O'Kelley, E., & Lutenbacher, M. (2020). Using academic community partnerships to improve asthma care in elementary schools with limited school nurse services. Journal of School Nursing. 90 (2), 158-161. doi:10.1111/josh.12859. Epub 2019 Dec 8. 

*Jordan, K., Mion, L., Lutenbacher, M., Dietrich, M., & Murry, V. (2019). Innovative Work Behavior of Middle School Faculty and Staff Related to Student Mental Health.  Journal of School Health. 

McClure, N., Seibert, M., Johnson, T., Kannenberg, L., Brown, T., M., Lutenbacher, M. (2018). Improving asthma management in the elementary school setting: an education and self-assessment pilot project. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 42:16-20. 

*Lutenbacher, M., Elkins, T., Dietrich, M. & Riggs, A. (2018). The efficacy of using peer mentors to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in Hispanic families: Findings from a randomized clinical trial. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 22(Suppl 1): 92-104.   

*Lamb, A. R., Lutenbacher, M., Wallston, K.A., Pepkowitz, S., Holmquist, B., Hobel, C.J. (2018). Vitamin D deficiency and depressive symptoms in the perinatal period. Archives of Women's Mental Health. 21(6) 

*Squiers, A., Lutenbacher, M., Kaufman, M., & Karp, S. (2017). Transitioning to adult healthcare system: Barriers and opportunities for youth with Spina Bifida. Pediatric Nursing. 43(6):289-298. 

McClure, N., Lutenbacher, M. O'Kelley, E., Dietrich, M. (2017). Enhancing pediatric asthma care and chronic disease education through an academic practice partnership. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 36: 64-69. DOI: 10.1016/j.pedn.2017.04.008. 

*Lutenbacher, M., Karp, S., & Moore, E. R. (2016). Reflections of black women who choose to breastfeed: Influences, challenges and supports. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 20(2): 231-239. DOI: 10.1007/s10995-015-1822-4 

Howe-Heyman, A. & Lutenbacher, M. (2016). The Baby-Friendly-Hospital-Initiative as an intervention to improve breastfeeding rates: A review of the literature.  Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health. 61(1):77-102. DOI:10.1111/jmwh.12376 

*Karp, S., Wallston, K.A., Lutenbacher, M. (2015). Evaluation of the Parenting Sense of Competence Scale in Mothers of Infants. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 24(11): 3471-3481.  DOI: 10.1007/s10826-015-0149-z 

Smith, K., Lutenbacher, M., McClure, N. (2015). Leveraging Resources to Improve Clinical Outcomes and Teach Transitional Care through Development of Academic-Clinical Partnerships. Nurse Educator. 40(6): 303-307. DOI: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000166 

*Young, C. C., Dietrich, M. S., & Lutenbacher, M. (2014). Brooding and reflection as explanatory of depressive symptoms in adolescents experiencing stressful life events. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35 (3), 175-180.

*Lutenbacher, M., Gabbe, P.T., Karp, S.M., Dietrich, M.S, Narrigan, D., Carpenter, L., Walsh, W. (2014). Does additional prenatal care in the home improve birth outcomes for women with a prior preterm delivery? A randomized clinical trial. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 18(5):1142-1154. DOI: 10.1007/s10995-013-1344-4.

Professional Organizations

  • American Academy of Nursing
  • American Nurses' Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science
  • Sigma Theta Tau
  • Southern Nursing Research Society


  • Metro Department of Health, Fetal Infant Mortality Review - 10 year Celebration; Honored for contributions since pre-inception, 2019 
  • International Association of Forensic Nurses, Annual Conference, New Orleans, Research Award, 2019 
  • VUSN Ingeborg Mauksch Faculty Mentor Award, 2018 
  • CityMatCH Annual Conference, Nashville, TN - Research Award, 2017
  • Nurses for Newborns Tennessee, Miller Award, 2016
  • March of Dimes of Tennessee, Nurse of the Year Award for Nursing Research, 2013
  • Outstanding Nursing Alumni, University of Kentucky, College of Nursing, 2010
  • Fellow, American Academy of Nursing, 2009
  • Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Ingeborg Mauksch Faculty Mentor Award, 2009
  • Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Dean's Award for Scholarly Achievement, 2001
  • Best of Image Award, Sigma Theta Tau International, 1995