‘Grey’s Anatomy’: How Complicated Surgery Scenes Are Filmed

Much has been made of the longevity of Grey’s Anatomy, which still has a devoted enough following that it has been renewed for not one, but two more seasons. If the show stops after its current order, it will have aired for 17 seasons,  an extremely impressive run by any standard. 

Fans love to gab about the characters, especially considering the departures and returns. However, one aspect of the show doesn’t get talked about as much: how they pull off all those surgical scenes.

Real doctors work with TV doctors

Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy | John Fleenor/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Just as police shows use real officers as consultants, Grey’s Anatomy has worked with actual doctors to help the show achieve realism. A vintage interview with TV Fanatic showed that Grey’s Anatomy took a tag-team approach. 

First, an emergency room doctor named Karen Pike would research medical problems for the screenwriters, saying of the process, “That was actually very challenging…It was fun.” 

Then, Linda Klein, a registered nurse, would work on the set to make sure the actors were getting the procedures correct. If she saw a mistake, she would call it out. 

Other sources, like this more recent one from E! mention totally different doctors, but that’s not due only to the show being on the air so many years. It’s due to the fact that there are so many different kinds of doctors on the show that they need to consult with many different medical experts. 

‘Grey’s Anatomy’  pits fiction vs. fact

Although Grey’s Anatomy tries to make the medical procedures look realistic, the show doesn’t pretend to be a documentary, especially not in the more fanciful episodes like the musical one. 

Regardless, a Monster article points out that Shonda Rhimes and company get a lot of things “wrong.” 

For example, on the show, surgeons get in intense relationships with patients. In real life, that would present a wave of ethical issues. Andrew Holtz, a former CNN medical correspondent, said:

“The surgeons, the residents, the other physicians in the hospital are checking with the patients, they get to know their cases, but they don’t spend anything like the kind of time actually in the room with the patients as the nurses do. Nurses really are the ones who take care of the patients, and the doctors get familiar with their cases and give instructions.”

And thank goodness real hospitals aren’t as intense as TV ones, because if they were, we’d be looking for a lot more doctors and nurses. 

“You couldn’t go to a job where you were on edge and totally stressed out every minute of every day because things were so dramatic. For the most part, the work is pretty routine,” Holtz said.

What are two of the best surgery scenes on ‘Grey’s Anatomy?’

TVOM put together a list of the best surgery scenes on the show. Here are two that probably wouldn’t pass the reality test, although that no doubt helped put the scenes on the list. 

One of the scenes chose is quite fanciful. In Season 15, episode 11, Catherine is going in for surgery. After an emotional breakdown, she goes to the table to wait. Then the scene turns on a dime as the operating room turns into a dance floor. 

On the other end of the emotional spectrum is the heart-pounding finale of Season 6, in which a bereaved man whose wife had died at the hospital, enters the operating room with a gun demanding that the team stop working on Derek (Patrick Dempsey), whom the man had previously shot.

Mandy Moore guest-starred in this episode, playing one of the patients trying to save one of the people who has been shot.