Dr. John Saroyan On Why Our Personal Directives for Death Matter


( ENSPIRE Health & Wellness ) Dr. John Saroyan Speaks to the Importance of End of Life Care and the Need for Better Physician Training

ENSPIRE Contributor: Keegan Kerns

Dr. John Saroyan has dedicated much of his life to fixing an issue that most of us would rather not even talk about: facing death. Specifically, he has worked throughout his medical career to increase the status and public engagement with hospice and palliative care. Dr. John Saroyan spent ten years as a full-time faculty member at Columbia University. He served as the Program Director for the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship and rose to Associate Clinical Professor. He is a Certified Hospice Medical Director and a board-certified pediatrician with a sub-specialty specialization in Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

According to a recent Kaiser study, patients who inform their loved ones and health care providers of their advanced care wishes, whatever they may be, have these wishes carried out almost 90% of the time. Yet, only 14% of patients with life-threatening health issues have made clear in any capacity what their wishes are. This statistic is made worse because it does not include those who find themselves in emergency life or death circumstances, which means, in reality, an even lower amount of people have made their advanced care wishes clear. With the issue often feeling taboo, Dr. John Saroyan has attempted to both improve the dialogue between individuals about the topic so that people can feel comfortable talking about the subject while also working towards creating programs that help fund institutions related to this issue and improving areas frequently involved in advanced care such as hospice. 

Dr. John Saroyan’s work has become increasingly difficult and hectic in this period of COVID chaos. Yet, he has continued to push for more significant reform in advance care planning, training for medical staff on when and how to approach patients about the topic of advanced care, as well as starting new work at BAYADA, a worldwide palliative, and home care company. With BAYADA, Dr. John Saroyan is not only able to see how end-of-life care is approached worldwide but, in turn, can draw from these global experiences to continually work towards a perfect system for palliative care alongside hospice. We can see this in Dr. John Saroyan’s involvement in programs and legislation such as the Compassionate Care Act.

The Compassionate Care Act was introduced into Congress by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and it outlines a plan to increase spending for palliative care and end-of-life care across the nation, alongside providing a national platform to educate the general public about the options available to them to start a more excellent discourse on the subject. This way, not only can we ensure that the institutions in place are working well, but we can also work to discuss how we can better improve the system and move on from there with the Compassionate Care Act. Again, thanks to the work of doctors like John Saroyan, who deal with spreading awareness and palliative care, important legislation like the Compassionate Care Act is being sold with.

We’ve seen in the past years just how quickly our expectations for life can be changed with the pandemic, and though we may be afraid or simply not want to talk about it, it’s clear that we also have to talk about the end of life treatment, what are the best options for each individual, and how can we make sure each individual gets what they desire. Dr. John Saroyan’s continued push to involve more fantastic physician training on the issue is an excellent start, alongside broader discussions about how we can all find ways and plans to face death with dignity. Not only does this help the individual receive comfortable End of Life Care, but it additionally enables hospitals and the health care system at large to be more efficient when dealing with the issue, preventing hospitals from becoming overburdened. Though it may not be the most comfortable topic, Dr. John Saroyan’s continued work is essential for improving many people’s lives, whether it be health care workers, family, friends, or even the individual planning out their advanced care desires. We, too, should look at this example to see if we can work towards breaking this taboo. 

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