How Grey’s Anatomy made this physician into a better doctor


I am an obstetrician-gynecologist, and my favorite show is Grey’s Anatomy. I dare say I have not missed an episode since I started watching in 2006 (as a busy obstetrician, multiple shows are watched on DVR).

I fell in love with the show when, at random, I ended up watching the final episode of the second season when Izzie (a physician character from the earlier seasons) fell in love with Denny, a patient, risked her career to attempt to save his life and accepted his marriage proposal, only to tragically lose him before they could take their vows. As a pushover for a romantic tragedy perhaps it was no wonder that this was the episode that sold me.

My doctor colleagues sometimes question my interest in the show given some of the medical inaccuracies and yes there are more than a few; the apparent ability of many of the doctors to skillfully treat issues across multiple specialties, the questionable diagnosis and treatment of multiple medical conditions, the constant high acuity of the patients treated, to name only a few. Certainly, if I watched Grey’s Anatomy for its medical accuracy, I would be disappointed. But that is not why I watch it. It is not why I love it.

The episode that aired on Thursday, March 28, addressing a story of a woman who was raped, as well as the story of Jo (a regular character) meeting with her mother is why I love it. The honor guard of women who gave this rape survivor courage to face a necessary surgery even though it is highly unlikely that this could ever happen in any real hospital is why I love it. I love it for its willingness to deal with pertinent social issues including racial discrimination, transgender discrimination, homosexuality, domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse, gun violence, the treatment of veterans and other issues that military personnel face. I love it for daring to challenge conventional religion.

A prime example occurred when the character April Kepner had her crisis of faith but ultimately found herself back to her God. I love it for the multiple issues that regardless of whether or not I agree with the opinions expressed in any particular episode need to be addressed because these are issues my patients have and will face. Sometimes I will not agree with my patient’s choices, but my empathy and care should be no less regardless of my opinion.

I love it for unapologetically allowing all the relationships, including the romantic ones to cross race and gender boundaries, without ignoring that the boundaries exist, or that differences exist.

Yes, Grey’s is not a lesson in surgery, obstetrics-gynecology, or any specialty for that matter. As physicians, we have the appropriate resources for that.

It is not a lesson in morality. We have our respective religious persuasions to do that. What it does is awake our social consciousness and help us to constantly see that the world is bigger than our concept of it. Those social issues are often neither black or white but all the colors of the spectrum, that love can transcend boundaries, whether real or imaginary. Because of that, I believe that this pseudo-medical show still helps me to be a better doctor.

Monique Rainford is an obstetrician-gynecologist.

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