How Grey’s Anatomy Gets It Wrong

Recently I was in Seattle for a memorial service. Not the happiest of occasions, but I saw family I hadn’t seen in years and visited a few Seattle sights, so the general mood of the trip was pleasant.

But as I wandered the wet streets, my mind traveled to the television show Grey’s Anatomy and its fictitious hospital, Seattle Grace.

 

Seattle’s Gum Wall. Gross but kind of intriguing.

Seattle’s Gum Wall. Gross. But kind of intriguing.

 

Years ago, I weathered internship. I weathered residency. I even weathered pregnancy in my chief residency year.

But I never weathered anything like those Seattle Grace docs do.

Plane crashes, bus crushes, bombs in human bodies. And that’s the easy stuff. The real struggles come from their endless relationship woes. It’s enough to send pre-med students sprinting to their course catalogs for a quick change of major.

 

Original image from Wikipedia

Grey’s Anatomy (Original image from Wikipedia)

The Fiction of Grey’s Anatomy

  • In the show, residents and attendings bump uglies as often as their scalpels cut skin. Sure, if my former fellow residents and I had done that, we would’ve ended up in a room with our attendings, too. One with a disciplinary board inside.
  • As surgical residents and attendings, these folks have unlimited time for lunch, gossip, and work-hours sex. Cool.
  • Fellows and young faculty now own the hospital and comprise its board. Yeeeeah, and I was my training hospital’s CEO.
  • Residents and attendings interpret radiographic studies and pathology slides as if radiologists and pathologists were mere window dressing. Ohhhh, perhaps they trained under Dr. Gregory House, MD. That would explain the one-doc-does-all ability.
  • Meredith, a surgical attending of only a couple years, has a sister five years her junior who is the new head of cardiothoracic surgery. To be mathematically possible, they would’ve had to start their training at the same time, and perhaps the youngest even sooner. So I guess she’s a heart surgeon prodigy? Good on you, youngster.
  • The residents bark orders at nurses and other healthcare professionals as if the rest of the staff exists only to meet their needs. Good medicine requires good team work. Rounding without nursing input (or that of respiratory therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists…) risks mistakes. And dead patients.

It’s Fiction, Carrie

I know, I know, I get it. I’ve been known to weave some far-fetched tales of my own. I guess that’s why we enjoy it.

Well, that and because those Seattle Grace docs are all so dang pretty.

 

Sisters get photobombed at Seattle’s Public Market.

Sisters get photobombed at Seattle’s Public Market.

Do you watch any medical shows?

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourgea medical thriller. For full bio, click here.

292 Responses to “How Grey’s Anatomy Gets It Wrong”

  1. Joanna Aislinn

    I’ve always been a sucker for medical drama. I’m about to date myself, but my mom used to let me stay up on Wed nights to watch MEDICAL CENTER. ER took no time to suck me in, then brought Goran Visjnic to anchor me to it. (Now HE was hot, and that accent…).

    I can get into HOUSE here and there. I like the way the team figures out the confounding medical case of the episode. Boarders a bit on melodrama, but definitely not lacking in external and character conflict to drive the plot, lol.

    Wow, that gum wall. Guess I have to go google it.

    Like

    • Joanna Aislinn

      Guess I was too busy watching ER to get into GREY, but I do miss PRIVAT PRACTICE. Talk about annoying but likable characters.

      Like

        • Joanna Aislinn

          I’m sure it was, lol, but I also caught it late in its game.

          I always liked how ER didn’t talk down to its audience. HOUSE was similar, in terms of the dialogue too. Just put all the medical stuff out there w/o dumbing it down.

          Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I don’t recall Medical Center, but I did love ER. That one was realistic. They had doctors on the set for consultation, and it shows. And yes, Goran Visnjic was a very welcome addition…

      House drove me crazy. There’s no way a doctor could act like that and keep his job. Or his license! But I watched it for a few years and got caught up in some of the stories.

      Like

  2. Mike G.

    Bummer. I sorta guessed it was out of touch with reality. But House, too. Please say it ain’t so.

    I’ve been in the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities (stop smirking) for nearly 30 years. My skin crawls when I watch 97% of spy thrillers myself. Except Homeland– the writing and acting is so good I overlook Carrie’s bipolar disorder. I am going to kill myself if i have to watch another commercial for Katherine Heigle (sp?) and her new farcical TV show.

    I guess the same is felt by most cops when police dramas begin their opening theme music. Well, except for Barney Miller. Cuz that stuff was closer to reality than most anything I’ve seen.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, I imagine those police and intelligence shows must drive you bonkers. Of course, they’re my favorites, and it’s easier for me to let their flaws go since I don’t work in the field. Well, except for the CSI type shows. Those drove me nuts. Medical examiners showing up in white pantsuits. DNA results coming back in an hour. Ugh. I love Homeland. One of my favs, but like you, I’ll be skipping Katherine Heigl’s new one.

      True Detective was another good one. I’m glad they’re doing another season of it, albeit with different characters.

      As for House–he was the worst offender of all. He would’ve lost his license early on in the real world!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It’s much appreciated!

      Like

  3. My Inner Chick

    S u p e r b.
    You know, I always wondered about those shows.
    I mean, are the doctors really that hot? Is there really that much sex?
    Damn, I missed my calling.
    xx

    Like

  4. Jennifer J. Chow

    Haven’t seen any medical shows lately. I did, however, visit Seattle over the summer. That gum wall was pretty gross. Even though my friends kept telling me, it smelled so “fragrant,” I decided not to get too close.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, yes! I think you were the one who mentioned The Crumpet Shop in your blog. I had bookmarked the shop’s page, but I couldn’t remember which blogger alerted me to it. I stopped there twice. First to try one (yum!) and again to buy some to take home with me. It was a short walk from my hotel. So thank you for the heads-up about it!

      Like

  5. wiseabundance

    I gave up on Grey’s Anatomy a while back because of the incessant catastrophes. I appreciate your expert take on the world of Seattle Grace. I’m glad it exists only in the world of fiction.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, no shortage of catastrophes for those poor docs. If that was me, I’d put myself in a plastic bubble and never come out. I’m not sure why I’m still watching the show. Dang my loyalty…

      Like

  6. jeanjames

    Seriously what is the fascination with the medical profession? Lol. I used to watch House when it 1st came out and was always yelling at the T.V., but I kept watching to see how many jobs he was going to juggle each day. I did love E.R. but never got hooked on Grey’s. Now for real excitement it’s all about Untold Stories of the E.R. it’s very real and very entertaining! Great post…loved the gum wall…ewww!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. Yes, the gum is gross, and it’s actually several walls in an alley. Ugh.

      I liked ER. It was pretty realistic. But House made me yell at the screen too. I finally had to give up on it. That guy would’ve lost his license early in his career!

      Like

  7. Gwen Stephens

    I loved ER when it was hot in the 90s, and I was a big Grey’s fan in the early years, too. I was a Clooney girl and a McDreamy girl … but I grew weary of both shows after a few seasons. I also have a tendency to pick apart any movie or TV program that centers on or includes elements of the teaching profession. My pet peeve? The large wooden desk at the front of the classroom, which overlooks student desks arranged in neat vertical rows. And of course the stereotyped teacher — tiny spectacles, pinched face, hair arranged in a severe bun, etc. Makes me want to gag.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I was mentioning to another commenter that it’s time for another teacher-centered drama. It’s been a while. ‘Glee’ focused on teachers a bit, but that was a weird show, and I highly doubt the teachers would behave the way they did on that show. (I’m thinking the mean gym teacher.) I gave up on that one quickly. But I’ve stayed with Grey’s Anatomy. Lord knows why considering how much it annoys me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. calahan

    I’ve never watch Grey’s Anatomy, but my wife is fond of it. So, I can’t speak to its authenticity. I did watch a lot of MASH re-runs growing up and learned that depicting a war that only last three years can actually age you 11 years! What??

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s like the Sue Grafton A to Z mystery series I read. The protagonist remains in her 30s in the 80s while meanwhile, I continue to pass through decades while I enjoy her sleuthing. Hardly seems fair.

      I loved MASH, too, though I think I caught it mostly in reruns so I probably didn’t see all the episodes.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Carrie Rubin

          Haha, well, it’s because time doesn’t pass much. I guess the author prefers to keep the detective in the 80s before the Internet and smartphones made detection easier.

          Like

      • Gwen Stephens

        I’m a huge fan of the Kinsey Millhone series, too, Carrie! Grafton plans to retire after the release of her “Z” book. 😦

        Like

  9. jennifer Windram

    When a commercial comes on for that show, I always turn to my husband say, “That show is still on???” I stopped watching eons ago and I thought it was getting ridiculous then.

    I’m really bad when it comes to picking on medical shows or shows that try to portray some sort of illness or hospital scene. I was watching one show where the hospital and all it’s patients were left overnight with a security guard in charge and no medical staff. That really irked me. Yes, everyone just packs up and goes home at night, I hope you don’t have any medical emergencies, or need help going to the bathroom. I also can’t stand when they show someone who has supposedly been on a ventilator for a very long time, like months, and they are still intubated and just have this little tube dangling out of their mouth. Oooh, or when they want to show someone flatline but really they are just showing the monitor without the leads attached, so it’s that completely straight line with the question mark. Or when a character has an IV in and they think there’s actually a needle still in their arm.

    And the whole time, I’m thinking you’re a major television show. Is it that hard to do the research? Okay, I better stop now…

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Haha, yes, the needle in the arm thing and the ventilator missteps. I love how they never seem to tape the ET tube in place, as if it will just magically stay put.

      The show ER was pretty accurate. They had doctors on the set as consultants and it showed. Of course, they probably didn’t look like any of the pretend docs on the set…

      Like

  10. denarogers

    Love this post! It’s light, funny and true! I was a huge fan of Grey’s, but after the plane crash, things just kept getting out of control! I haven’t watched it for a couple years- but do agree, all the docs are very nice on the eyes 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, I think the plane crash is when I started to poke more fun at the show. And yet I’m still watching it. Hard to let some things go, I guess.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. aFrankAngle

    My wife regularly watches/watched Grey’s, ER, House, etc … which means I casually tune in as she watches while I blog. However, you have answered some of the questions that I’ve thought about.

    Like

  12. butimbeautiful

    I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy (and that goes for hundreds of other legendary tv shows too). Sounds idiotic. I do remember reading ‘nurse’ stories when I was a teenager, the kind where beautiful nurse catches yummy doctor. Same sort of thing really?

    Like

  13. talesfromthemotherland

    Oh Carrie darlin… I will completely ignore the fact that you were in MY city and I didn’t get to finally meet you cara a cara (given, for sad circumstances… but, hey, you did go to the gum wall! But, I’m ignoring that…), and I’m going to do something I very rarely do: I’m sending this post to my husband, Smart Guy. He just happens to be the REAL McDreamy. My McDreamy can not even be in the room when Grey’s is on, because it drives him insane. INSANE. “Oh God, REALLY?! He just killed another patient! Man, if I killed this many neuro patients, my career would be over!” The other stuff, all the fabulous points you make here, he will eat. them. up! He will grin like a cheshire and say: “THIS is a good blog!” Then he’ll say something like, “hey, do you know her? She was just in SEATTLE… like, where we live… you don’t know her, do you?” I’ll ignore him too. *laughed out loud through this whole post.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, Dawn, I did think of you! But it was a whirlwind trip with lots of family to see. Just not a lot of time for anything else. The gum wall and public market happened because it was close to my hotel.

      As a surgeon, I’ll bet Grey’s does indeed drive your hubs crazy. It probably requires all his restraint not to punch the TV. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Laura

    Jo!!
    Although I do love me some Grey’s, I have always wondered what real doctors and nurses think of the show. Thanks Carrie!

    Like

  15. thefolia

    I always wondered what real doctors thought of the portrayal of doctors and in general the hospital environment on TV. Sorry to hear of your loss, happy to see how the disgusting gum wall and the photo bomber lighten up the mood a bit.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. It’s funny how funerals are inherently sad, and yet they bring so many people together that it can end up being an almost happy occasion, if that makes sense.

      Like

  16. Exile on Pain Street

    My Bride is obsessed with that show. I’ve tried to watch it but it’s a chick show. I don’t mean to say it’s bad. Just that I’m not the target audience. Is it unkind or unfair for me to say that? Does that make me some kind of ping?

    As you adroitly pointed out, it’s a work of fiction. Not a documentary.

    What, in Bog’s name, is a gum wall? Maybe I don’t want to know. And people say New York is gross!

    Like

      • Carrie Rubin

        Haha, you’re neither a pig nor a ping. Then again, how would I know? Maybe you have a pink curly tail and a penchant to oink. Hey, to each his own…

        Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s actually many walls–an entire alley of walls splattered with people’s gum. Some people even spelled out their names. It’s interesting to say the least.

      It’s okay to say you’re not the demographic for Grey’s Anatomy. Considering the shows I normally watch (darker crime dramas), I’m probably not either. But it’s reached such a grand stage of preposterous that I can’t give it up now!

      Like

      • Exile on Pain Street

        My wife watches those darker crime dramas as well. Can I say, without meaning to offend anyone, especially you or my wife, that I don’t understand how people can sit and watch those things. I’ve tried. I don’t want those ugly, violent images (usually against women) in my head right before I go to sleep. Did you know that Mandy Pitankin walked out on Criminal Minds in the middle of filming a season because he couldn’t stand the darkness anymore? I’m with him.

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          Oh, I hear you there. I skip the ones where the main target of violence is women. (And I’m so glad to see a man point that out.) I never watched Criminal Minds for that reason. I like shows where the emphasis is on the detective solving the case rather than the murder itself. But my all-time favorite was Dexter. He mostly killed men. Bad men. But again, the emphasis wasn’t on that. The emphasis was on the character. Several episodes went by without a killing, and I was just fine with that.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exile on Pain Street

            Have you seen Walking Dead? I’ve seen exactly one episode. ONE. That was enough for me. And I’ve never seen any of the Saw movies. That stuff is awfully popular. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just a big pussy and should curl up in a fetal position and hide under the bed and never come out.

            Like

  17. Smaktakula

    Of course I do not watch medical shows. I have to be selective with what I watch. However, I am currently watching 2 or 3 shows irregularly (South Park, the Flash, saw the first episode of “American Horror Story 4” and wasn’t impressed), which is a lot for me.

    I haven’t seen Gray’s Anatomy (although I know everyone hates Katherine Heigl and that Isaiah Washington said the very bad F word and has been exiled to the Wilderness to contemplate his sins), but I would have thought that there was a fair amount of sex in hospitals (I’m not trying to be funny). I know that when people are thrown into stressful situations together, it’s pretty easy for sex to happen. And when I think of stressful situations, I think of medical residency.

    Now that I think about it, I HAVE seen a medical show recently. Thanks to no new Maury paternity tests on You Tube, I’ve been watching your boy Dr. Phil occasionally (when his topic is particularly sensational). He’s undoubtedly intelligent, and I believe in his way he cares, but he’s got a mean streak. He’s not as good a listener sometimes as he should be, and sometimes he’s (deliberately, I sometimes think) mistake something a guest says so that he can make a joke or zinger out of it. Also, it’s a little off-putting that he so often uses himself and his family as a paragon of rectitude. BUT, if you ever want more pointers on marketing your book, you could emulate Dr. Phil, who is a shameless book pimp. “I only wish I had written this book five years ago so that you could have read it.” That’s pretty awesome.

    Like

    • Smaktakula

      And now I feel bad because it seems like I’m harshing on Dr. Phil, and I know you like him. There’s much to be said for him–it’s just easier sometimes to pick at faults.

      Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I made it through three episodes of American Horror Story then I stopped watching. Just don’t have the time. I never thought the stories were that great, but I watched it for the performances.

      I know, I don’t like when Dr. Phil compares things to his own family. I want to say, “Yes, we know your wife and sons are perfect, but they are not the topic for today.” And you’re right; sometimes he can be a bit of a bully. Some guests need that, but others just get shut down from it. You’re also right about the book promotion. Ugh. And now he’s constantly going on about his son’s publishing company. Enuff already, Philsie!

      But I still like him because he tells it like it is, and he’s up on the mental health literature. He doesn’t pull theories from his fanny. His advice is based on research and experience. Unlike some talk show hosts. (Ahem, The View, which I like to tape and watch later while I make dinner, along with Dr. Phil, but lately the ladies are driving me nuts.)

      Like

      • Smaktakula

        I’ve never seen the View (thanks to my Y chromosome), but like “Grey’s Anatomy,” I know about all the behind-the-scenes hate.

        Re: Dr. Phil. You make a good point regarding not pulling stuff out of his “fanny” (you know what that means in the UK? I thought you liked to keep it clean). Yeah, I’ve found his advice to be pretty trenchant, and I do appreciate that he seems to take a very wide view of conflict, and that he makes a concerted effort to make all parties realize that they are contributing to the problem. Also, I’ve noticed that unlike other talk shows, Dr. Phil does his homework. Typically, the host hears all the salacious revelations at roughly the same time as the audience, and and dispenses advice based solely upon that info. It appears that Dr. Phil (and his team, because there’s no way that he’s doing this by himself. To do so would not only be extremely difficult, but also irresponsible) already have a pretty good understanding of the situation before the first guest ever takes the stage. That’s pretty cool.

        Also, Dr. Phil’s height is an indicator of good moral character.

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          Yeah, he and his team do their homework. As for the very scientific direct relationship between height and moral character, I’ll accept that. Got a lot of height in my family…

          Like

  18. Ally Bean

    I’ve always wondered about the accuracy of TV medical shows. I liked St. Elsewhere & ER years ago, and have occasionally watched Scrubs, but while interesting none of these shows got me hooked on the genre. [I am, of course, making the assumption that General Hospital, with Dr. Noah Drake and Nurse Bobby Spencer, is also nothing at all like medical reality. But I could be wrong.]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yeah, I’m betting the daytime soaps aren’t too accurate. I loved St. Elsewhere, Scrubs, and ER. ER was the most accurate medical drama, so much so that it sometimes stressed me out to watch it. Felt like I was back at work. I don’t mind the high stakes and drama–that’s what makes good TV–but the day-to-day stuff should be more realistic and more accurately represent the profession. But I suppose it’s the same for legal and cop dramas or whatever the case may be.

      Liked by 1 person

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