Grey’s Anatomy is considered one of the best medical TV shows; I mean, come on, they’re in their 13th season, that’s got to stand for something! But, despite being one of the most popular medical dramas, there are many differences – and a few similarities – between the depictions of the inner workings of the famous Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital of Grey’s and a real-life hospital. Let’s check them out.
Disclaimer: This was written based on personal experience from working in a small hospital’s Level VI emergency room.
What Grey’s Anatomy gets wrong
Who handles the diagnostics?
First of all, doctors do not perform all of the diagnostics themselves. Throughout the show, we see doctors having conversations while they watch their patient get a scan of some sort. This leads to some funny moments where mics are left on, and patients hear things they shouldn’t, but it is far from realistic.
Highly trained technicians who had to go through their own degree program in college are really the ones who perform diagnostics. This also applies to running labs. Now, we understand that the interns are learning, and it is fine for them to draw some labs now and then, but after they are full-fledged doctors, they have much better things to do with their time.
Also, physicians and surgeons are not experts at reading CT scans. More often than not they can look at a regular x-ray and get a pretty good idea of what it says. However, when it comes to CTs, they will wait until the radiologist reads the scan and gives a conclusive finding of what the scan shows.
Where are all the nurses?
Every resident is told that the nurses know everything and deserve respect. Then, poof, they aren’t mentioned again. Sometimes you’ll see a nurse become important because they are currently dating a doctor.
In a real hospital, nurses not only know everything, they do everything. There is hardly anything that takes place in a hospital that the nurse does not know how to do. Granted, they didn’t go to medical school, so there are certain procedures that they are not necessarily amazing at, but when it comes to patient care, the nurses are where it is at, period. The only time Grey’s Anatomy ever really showed this was during the nurses’ strike. And then it got swept right back under the rug as soon as it was resolved.
Where is all of the paperwork?
In the real world, there are mountains of paperwork to do within the healthcare business. Occasionally, we see doctors or nurses on the show making bets or deals that end up with one of them doing paperwork for the other, but nobody is ever seen actually doing the paperwork!
For all the tests to be done on a patient, there must be an order made, whether it is on a paper chart or on a computer somewhere. The appropriate technician cannot perform a test without an order. Also, for those orders to be made, the patient has to be in the system. Labs, scans, anything you can think of that would be needed to diagnose an emergency patient, can not be done unless that patient is checked into the hospital’s system. Granted, the bigger hospitals may have their own protocol for John/Jane Doe situations, but most lower-level trauma centers do not have these types of protocols; if you are not in the computer, you do not exist.
Where are the consults?
Surgeons have consults. They hardly ever show this part of the interns’ learning process or their lives for the rest of the show. People do not come to the hospital and immediately go into surgery. They will schedule an appointment with the surgeon to see if surgery is even necessary. Of course, this isn’t glamorous enough to take up valuable storyline minutes so they never even mention it. The show’s version of a consult is simply calling the appropriate department to look at an ER patient. Granted, this does happen, but even surgeons have the boring days of having nothing but consult appointments.
What Grey’s Anatomy gets right… sort of
Are the relationships authentic?
One thing the show gets right is that in the medical field, much like all industries, workplace relationships will happen. As we saw with the Owen/Cristina relationship, there is usually no problem as long as superiors are properly notified. However, problems can arise when there is a mismatch in the power dynamic. There are reasons that MerDer experienced issues whenever Derek was actually in charge of Meredith; because it’s not supposed to happen. Staffers tend to break their necks to make sure a person is never directly in charge of their partner. Why? Remember what happened with Burke’s hand? That’s why.
How correct are the charts?
Grey’s Anatomy gets the most important thing correct: the charts. If it is not in the chart, it is as if it doesn’t exist. This could literally be life or death for the patient. The patient’s chart is a bible about that person and holds everything a doctor or nurse needs to know about the patient’s ailments and conditions.
The first 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy is available to stream on Netflix.