In 2010, the Association of American Medical Colleges said the United States faced a shortage of 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years. Here's a plan to stop the bleeding: Why not recruit the cast of ABC's hit dramedy Grey's Anatomy? They seem young, smart and really driven—despite their sophomoric spats, occasional heavy drinking and manifold sexual exploits. And the interns and doctors at, first, Seattle Grace Hospital, now Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, sure look like they know how to practice medicine, dealing hourly—and usually brilliantly—with life-or-death situations.
Grey's Anatomy's cast is broad, varied and worthy of a soap opera (which, of course, is exactly what Grey's is). Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang, April Kepner and Alex Karev are all surgeons who have battled their way through various professional and personal trials. Dr. Owen Hunt, a trauma specialist and Iraq War vet, is Cristina's ex-husband and still sometime lover. Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins are orthopedic surgeons and lesbians who recently married. Dr. Derek Shepherd, Meredith's husband, is chief of surgery. Dr. Miranda Bailey, an attending surgeon, and former hospital chief Richard Webber try to keep everyone in line.
Between rounds, this motley yet highly telegenic group grapples with friendships, romance, dysfunctional families and conundrums about their own competence. (In fact, they often struggle with these things during their rounds.) And when they're not agonizing, they find time to swap innuendo-laden banter, engage in quick couplings with one another (and sometimes patients), and mull the muddy meaning of life and love.
These interns aren't just learning how to operate on patients, then, they're trying to figure out how to operate in life—crafting community, balancing work and play, and seeking happiness in a demanding profession. But their choices often lead to ethically impaired life lessons and disastrously misinformed spiritual beliefs. In other words, the word Grey in the show's title could easily refer to its characters' morals as well.
And then there's the gore, shown up close and in living (or deceased, as the case may be) color. Mangled body parts—be they torn, punctured, bitten off or atrophied—are pictured in grisly detail. Rare diseases sometimes manifest in horrifying ways. Similarly dreadful are the ways doctors address these situations with sitcom-style yuks.
That's not to say Grey's Anatomy doesn't have some serious points to make. It does. But it seems every time the show tries to make a poignant statement about self-sacrifice or forgiveness, that heartfelt moment gets derailed by flashes of partial nudity or explicit sexual humor involving masturbation, erections or vaginas.
Creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes chalks it up to a "realistic" portrait of doctors. "Some medical shows keep them as heroes, and some medical shows go with pure adrenaline drama," she says. "But Grey's Anatomy is trying to walk the line in the middle and give you a little bit of both."
The result is a perennial hit, and many of Grey's Anatomy actors have gone on to impact other shows or films. Katherine Heigl, for instance, played Dr. Izzie Stevens for years before making a splash in the world of cinematic romcoms. Sarah Drew, who plays the Christian doctor April Kepler, also took a starring turn in the 2014 Christian comedy Moms' Night Out. In both roles, Drew—a Christian herself—says that she's done her best to portray Jesus-followers as real, genuine people, not preconceived notions of what sitcom fans might expect or sometimes see on the news.
"I know in our mainstream culture, the loudest voices and the most shocking voices are the ones that get the noise," she told Fox News. "But the problem is, people think that's how all Christians behave if they don't know any Christians."
As nuanced as she might try to make her character, though, the shock she talks about also rules on her own show. Sex, gore and bad behavior are everyday occurrences in the workaday world of Grey Sloan Memorial. And that's far from a healing environment.
"Everything I Try to Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right"
April and Jackson, who secretly eloped, are now expecting (and keeping the babe under wraps, too). Callie, meanwhile, discovers she can no longer carry a baby—a sad realization for her and her wife, Arizona, who discuss the matter in bed (and kiss). Cristina and Owen share a passionate smooch or two.
Bailey is in trouble for giving a child a risky stem cell treatment involving the HIV virus—against the parents' wishes. The boy is cured, but the parents threaten to take Bailey's medical license before an intern lies to save Bailey's bacon. Alex steals a patient from Arizona: We see them both operating on the contested boy. (Intestines are exposed.) An intern cares for a baby whose organs were born outside the body. The protective casing breaks, causing the organs to spill and necessitating emergency surgery.
A professional dancer suffers from a problematic sphincter, causing serious issues with her bowel movements. In every scene she passes noisy, embarrassing gas. We hear about how she defecated in the middle of a rehearsal, grossly describing the mess as "frickin' spin art." We hear other crude references to feces and anatomical areas.
April is jokingly threatened with a medical drill. There's a quip about suicide. Characters routinely say things like "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." They misuse God's name a couple of times.
Most of the doctors, still dealing with the aftermath of last season's violent carnage, have been cleared for surgery following the shooting. But Christina is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and has to practice on cadavers. Dr. Robbins forces Alex to take the elevator where he almost bled to death in order to face his fear.
A grossly deformed "tree man," covered with large warts, becomes an object of derision. Docs mock two virgins in their late twenties, later talking about their own first sexual experiences as teens. Several doctors lightheartedly scold a peer for getting emotionally involved with a man after having sex with him, suggesting she should have been "cool," "strong" and more detached. A patient who inhaled a condom while practicing oral sex with a banana has a lung abscess. Callie and Arizona are shown making out, beginning to undress each other (in front of their roommates) and rushing to their bedroom to have sex. Several doctors get tipsy at a bar while—and here we go again—mocking the virgin doctor among them.
Surgery is graphic. Language includes "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑." "Frickin'" stands in for the f-word, and God's name is abused multiple times.