BURLINGTON, Mass.—John Saryan never wanted to be a doctor. He wasn’t that young kid who was surrounded by medical playthings with a physician’s dream in mind.
Today, he stands with a celebrated class as department chairman of allergy and immunology at Lahey Clinic, and has been bringing comfort and healing to his patients over the past 29 years.
The December issue of Boston Magazine listed Saryan as one of the top doctors in his class in the Greater Boston area—for the fourth time over the past decade! If anything, he might very well be the valedictorian of this prestigious class.
“It serves as a privilege to be acknowledged among the very best,” admitted the 59-year-old. “Boston is surrounded by world-class hospitals and medical schools, and I’m very proud and humbled to be among other Lahey physicians included in this list.”
Saryan was chosen by his peers. These are the doctors that other doctors recommend to family and friends.
“Competition to make this list is pretty tough,” concluded magazine editor John Wolfson. “With so many leading experts around town, how do you decide who makes the cut? You ask the experts themselves.”
Other Armenians named to the select list include John Krikorian, oncology, MetroWest Medical Center, Framingham; Alphonse Taghlian, radiation oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; and Christine Peeters-Asdourian, pain medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Boston.
As department head, Saryan takes charge of 4 doctors, 10 nurses, and a practitioner. A host of credits follows his name in the profession, including past president of the New England Society of Allergy and past president of the Massachusetts Society of Allergy.
Among other laurels is a dedicated service award from the Asthma & Allergy Foundation; he serves on their New England Board of Directors.
“It makes me feel that all the time and effort I put into my job gets recognized,” Saryan added. “If anything, I’m probably too devoted to my work.”
It wasn’t until he took a course in human physiology at the Air Force Academy that Saryan decided to change his career path to medicine. Up until then, he was leaning toward engineering.
“I became fascinated by medical science,” he recalled. “My mother wanted me to be a doctor. It was a noble profession. People respect doctors. She was surprised when I decided to enter the field. The decision came after a lot of soul-searching.”
Saryan is a 1970 graduate of Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Del., where he was a member of the National Honor Society and part of a state championship tennis team. He later became a two-time gold medalist in the AYF Olympics and still plays a competitive game of tennis and golf.
He proceeded to John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., ultimately graduating from its School of Medicine in 1977. He performed his residency at Boston’s Children Hospital before joining Lahey, where he was appointed department chairman in 2004.
“My patients are my biggest inspiration,” he points out. “They all pose a different challenge. You’re making a difference in their lives. There are the personal connections that often go beyond the job description.”
Medicine runs in the family: A daughter, Diana Balekian, 29, is a pediatric resident at Massachusetts General, and a niece, Ani Saryan, is a family practice resident in Appleton, Wisc.
Daughter Valerie Saryan, 26, is in Los Angeles, Calif., working and attending Whittier Law School, and daughter Melanie Saryan, 20, is a junior at Bentley University in Waltham.
Saryan has been married 30 years to the former Debbie Musserian, and they reside in Andover.
His late father Sarkis was a linguist, scholar, and chemist who authored the book Language Connections. His mother Armine is 90 and lives in Los Angeles. She taught at the Jemaran in Beirut for 10 years, wrote poems and essays for publications, and mothered four children, all college-educated.
The Armenian side is just as relevant. Saryan is past president and chairman of the Scholarship Committee for the Armenian Medical Association and belongs to the Council of Armenian Executives. He’s been the medical director of Camp Haiastan for 30 years and a Board member for 10 years.
Each Sunday you’ll find him on the altar of St. Gregory Church in North Andover where he’s been serving as a deacon since 2001. He’s supervised Bible study and taught Sunday School for six years while also serving on the Prelacy’s Armenian Religious Education Council for eight.
“Being involved with the church is a place I go for peace,” Saryan said. “It’s been a definite stress-buster for me. Every success I’ve achieved is a gift from God. I’m His servant and I’d like to be an example to others. Every time I put on that stole, it’s where I belong.”