Life of a Doctor: Grey's Anatomy vs Reality

Spoiler’s ahead!


I have to admit that Grey’s Anatomy is probably one of my favourite TV shows of all time, watching all 15 seasons of it in 4 months. The many twists and turns in the plot and the exclusivity you feel as you glimpse into the life of a surgeon is really something else! However, how accurate is the show at depicting the lives of doctors and the hospital environment?

It’s inevitable that the producers of grey’s anatomy have to sacrifice realism to really engage their audience and to make the show interesting, with many exaggerations and overdramatized events. Even so, this overglamorisation can create a false illusion of the medical world to many aspiring medics, causing them to be shocked and disappointed when they finally enter a hospital and begin work. It may also cultivate false expectations among patients as to a hospital's environment, resulting in a poor patient experience.

Besides the obvious things that definitely do not happen as often as the show portrays, such as : The several doctors dying every season, plane crashes, hospital shootings and fires, let’s delve into differences between hospital life in Grey’s Anatomy and the real world.

The Role interns play in a hospital

Grey’s Anatomy: Surgical Interns on the show go into the operating room very often, for a variety of complicated and niche cases. One example is in Season 1 episode 1, where Meredith Grey gets to scrub in on a Brain Surgery with Derek Shepherd, within the first week of her internship.

Reality: Surgical interns rarely scrub into the OR. When they do, it’s either to assist with an emergency or for a very standard case. Surgical interns do a lot more scut work than is shown on the show, such as taking care of patients on the surgical floor, talking to patients’ families and drawing stat labs. This is a far cry from the many surgeries that the interns on Grey's anatomy get to scrub in on and observe.

Day to day life of a doctor


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Surgeons from TV show Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy: Throughout the day, doctor’s perform emergency surgery after emergency surgery, or race against the clock to solve another medical mystery

Reality: Doctor’s spend a large proportion of their time filling out paperwork, which is hardly displayed in the show. According to a 2016 study by Annals of Internal medicine, doctors only spend just a little over 25% of their day with patients and almost 50% of their day doing paperwork.

Experimental treatments

Grey’s Anatomy: Doctor’s jump at the chance of doing experimental treatments, it is often shown that experimental treatment is better than any standard treatment. In many episodes, the surgeons are seen doing innovative and new treatments, such as growing their own organs and using pig valves to replace arteries in patients.

Reality: Surgeons do not take as many risks as is shown on the show. The better treatment option is always the known treatment and not an experimental one as with experimental treatments, you never know what is going to happen. New treatments are not always better.

Role of Nurses


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Nurses from Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy: Nurses are treated as side characters and play a very small role in the hospital. The surgeons are portrayed as superior to the nurses.

Reality: Nurses are essential to healthcare and play a large role in patient care. Giving patients injections, taking their blood pressure and helping patients are all part of nursing care. Nurses are also very helpful in assisting and teaching young doctors and their opinions are valued.

Relationships between patients and doctors


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Izzy Steven's (Surgical Intern) and Denny Duquette (Patient)

Grey’s Anatomy: Surgeons have very intimate, close relationships with patients regularly. One example would be Izzy Stevens and Denny Duquette’s intimate relationship, where they get married.

Real life: Surgeons spend more time away from patients as they are busy with lab test results/ doing surgery/ paperwork. Nurses develop closer relationship with patients as compared to doctors because they spend comparatively more time with them.

Medical Errors


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Kirk Jensen (patient on Grey's Anatomy) intubated

Grey’s Anatomy: Viewers often see close-ups of an intubated patient’s face, where the endotracheal tube is not held in place by tape

Reality: Doctor’s always use tape to hold the endotracheal tube in place because without it, the tube can easily slip from its correct position and the patient could go into respiratory distress due to the powerful anaesthetics that have paralysed the muscles that help them breathe.


Trauma Patients

According to a study done by 2 trauma doctors and a nurse practitioner, who watched all 269 episodes from Grey’s Anatomy’s first 12 seasons, comparing the 290 trauma patients in GA to real patient data from the National Trauma Databank


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Boy in Cement from Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy: Trauma cases are very severe, from patients accidentally swallowing bombs, to being encased in hardening cement. Patients tended either to die or stay in the hospital for a relatively short time, after which they were immediately discharged. On average, 22% of trauma patients do not survive.

Reality: Real trauma patient’s usually have less serious and obscure injuries, while they face a long road of recovery in the hospital. On average, only 7% of trauma patients do not survive.

These are just a few of the many differences between Grey’s Anatomy and reality. There’s definitely no real harm in watching all of the seasons, (except the disruptions to your sleep schedule when you’re hooked on a series of episodes) as long as you take the information on the show with a pinch of salt. If you really want to become a doctor, the best way of finding out more about the hospital environment is going for work experience or talking to some real doctors!

1) https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/healthcare-ways-your-job-is-nothing-like-greys-anatomy-0916

2) https://thedo.osteopathic.org/2014/09/greys-anatomy-vs-real-life-residency/

3) https://www.surgery.wisc.edu/2017/10/09/the-surgical-intern-an-inside-look/

4) https://www.thelist.com/175725/false-things-greys-anatomy-made-you-believe-about-medicine/

5) https://time.com/5162534/is-greys-anatomy-accurate/

Photos from google images

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