‘Grey’s Anatomy’: When Did the Original Interns Leave the Show?

Before becoming the longest-running primetime medical drama on TV, Grey’s Anatomy was a show about five young interns. Now a record 18 seasons in, some fans are nostalgic for those early days. With rumors swirling that this season may be the last, it marks one final opportunity for those who left to return in guest roles. Here’s a look at the five original interns and when we last saw them on the show. 

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ began with 5 interns

(L-R): T.R. Knight, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers, Sandra Oh, and Ellen Pompeo in 'Grey's Anatomy'
(L-R): T.R. Knight, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers, Sandra Oh, and Ellen Pompeo in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ | Michael Desmond/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

From the get-go, Grey’s Anatomy focused on Meredith Grey and her co-workers. On her first day as an intern, she met Cristina Yang, Izzie Stevens, George O’Malley, and Alex Karev. The first four quickly became friends, with Alex on the outskirts until they began to warm up to him.

Over time, everyone left Meredith in some regard. Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 marked the first season without one of her original intern friends by her side.

Who left ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in what seasons?

George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) left first. He had a bumpy start as an intern, but he found his way with the help of his friends. He became a fan favorite over the six seasons he was on the show, which made his season 5 death that much harder to take.

Thus far, Knight is the only intern to make a guest appearance. He appeared in the Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 episode “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” when Meredith speaks to George on her afterlife beach.

Next up was Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl). After losing her lover, participating in paranormal sexual activity, getting placed on probation, getting married, and undergoing cancer treatment, Izzie was simply ready to retreat. The actor departed the show in Season 6. She received a mention in Season 16, but chances of Heigl reappearing are slim.

Meredith’s best friend, Cristina, left in Season 10 for a new work opportunity — both for the character and the star herself, Sandra Oh. Though Cristina’s departure from the show left open the possibility for a return, Oh has made it clear that leaving behind the role was a challenging thing to do, and she is not interested in reopening that particular part of her career.

Finally, Alex Karev stuck around for a while longer. But when he finds out that his ex-wife, Izzie, has had two of his children with their frozen embryos, he decides to go be with her and be the type of father he never had. Justin Chambers exited the show somewhat abruptly in Season 16.

Meredith Grey is still the protagonist

As the title character, Meredith Grey (portrayed by Ellen Pompeo) has been a major part of the story since its very beginning. When we first met her, Meredith was an intern with a crush on “Dr. McDreamy” and finding her footing among the other interns.

Over the years, we’ve seen her grow both personally and professionally. And her relationships have been through a whole series of dramatic transformations. From building a family with Derek to losing him and from rising in the ranks to become a leader in the hospital to almost losing her career, fans have followed Meredith through many ups and downs. 

When Season 17 saw Meredith in a coma for most of the episodes, fans began to believe it was the end for the main character — and possibly the entire show. Meredith did pull through. But the dramatic fear of her loss has fans wondering just how much longer the show can go on. 

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