- Grey's Anatomy -Fact-Checking The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Pilot 15 Years Later With A Married Surgeon & Nurse
Head and neck surgeon Dr. Mark Singer and operating room nurse Judy Singer met in the operating room at Methodist Hospital of Indiana in 1986, and were married a year later in 1987. They know a lot about things like blood, inter-hospital politics, and finding love behind a surgical mask; and while they definitely know how to save a life, they also know how to save a life, if you know what I mean. They’re Grey’s Anatomy fans.
Which makes them the perfect pair to fact-check the 2005 pilot’s medical accuracy. Dr. and Mrs. Singer have thoughts on everything from the way the show handles the patient-family dynamic to the way interns talk to nurses to the “practice” of suturing up a banana.
Even if the show doesn’t get an A+ in its portrayal of real doctor and nursehood, the Singers appreciate the interpersonal relationships between the characters on the show. "The stories are what made them so great!" Mark tells me.
(If you happen to be interested in what it’s really like to be a medical professional, they recommend reading The House of God. "It’s the most accurate depiction of being a doctor," Mark says.)
Below, Dr. and Mrs. Singer analyze the pilot, “A Hard Day’s Night.”
On The Competitive Nature
At the start of the show, Dr. Webber reminds the interns that they were all in medical school just a month ago and characterizes the members of the intern class as each other's competition. How accurate is this characterization?
Mark: “Interns begin work July 1st after graduating in June. The turnaround time is just a matter of days. It’s basically an automatic part of your degree," he says. "It is competitive because everyone is trying to become the chief resident, whether it’s surgery or medicine. Chief resident is an honor and much more responsibility.
Judy: “Being chief resident means you have a much better chance at getting your next job… and you don’t have to do the crap work!”
The chief of staff suggests that of the intern class, “eight of you will switch to an easier specialty, five of you will crack under the pressure, and two of you will be asked to leave.” Is that more or less how it usually shakes out?
Mark: “That is an exaggeration! Everybody is expected to stick with it and finish, very few actually drop out.”
Judy: “In nursing school, about 50 percent don’t make it to the end!”
On The Sexism
Of the intern class, there were only six women out of 20. When you were starting out, was the gender ratio as disproportionate back then, too? Maybe even less women in your intern class?
Mark: “It was 10% women during my internship. The intern-of-the-year award usually went to a woman, for reasons better left to a different article!"
Judy: “In nursing, 95% of the class was women. It’s still less common to see male nurses in hospitals."
Was there a lot of sexism around female doctors as you remember being an intern? If female doctors gave their opinion, would they be called nurses as if being a nurse is demeaning, like how Alex Karev speaks to Meredith in the pilot?
Mark: “The sexism is accurate, unfortunately.”
Judy: “It really is.”
On The Resident/ Intern Dynamic
Of the intern group we’re introduced to, they are under the tutelage of a very strict resident, Miranda Bailey, with regimented rules like "Don’t bother sucking up, I already hate you." Are those fraught relationships, a.k.a. no hand-holding, between resident and intern fairly accurate as you remember?
Mark: “It’s generally right though a bit exaggerated, not exactly like Bailey’s rules but… let’s put it this way, interns learn to walk on eggshells. If something goes wrong, they are supportive towards the interns. Usually they don’t hate on the interns because they need them to do so much of the work.”
The show suggests the interns’ duties are doing C.T. scans, patient workups, labs, and rectal exams. What duties are interns usually allowed to do? What’s the typical grunt work?
Mark: “The grunt work consists of retrieving all the appropriate lab studies, patient workups including rectal exams… interns are allowed to do a variety of things, from starting IVs, talking to patient families, and, in surgery, learning to suture."
And further to that point, were rectal exams the punishment task for interns who weren’t their resident’s favorite, like Izzie Stevens' assignment her first day?
Mark: “Rectal exams are not punishment, they are part of the patient intake process. However, removal of an anorectal impaction IS punishment!"
Do nurses in hospitals take instructions from new interns? On what drugs to administer and what tests to run? Do interns really have that authority?
Judy: “The nurses do take instructions from new interns, but they don’t trust them at all… and the nurses are usually right. Sometimes the nurses will even question more experienced doctors. Don’t doubt a nurse!”
Mark: “The interns don’t even have their final license until after they finish their internship!"
On The Doctor/Patient Relationship
Would you hear about the personal lives of your patients? Would they often confide in you? One patient tells Meredith Grey about her special talent of rhythmic gymnastics that she would perform in a beauty pageant.
Mark: “Patients would often confide more to the younger members of the team, like medical students and interns. They spent more time with the patients and are less intimidating than the older doctors.”
Judy: “When the shifts change, nurses will usually tell the next nurse what to expect from the patients. In pediatrics, it’s especially easy to get attached to the young patients."
On Surgery And Operating As An Intern
At the show’s hospital, Seattle Grace, the honor of performing the first surgery is reserved for the intern that shows the most promise. Is that common at hospitals for the new intern class?
Mark: “It’s not an honor, but the first surgery is for an intern who is trusted and capable. It’s more of a privilege than an honor. If they’re a yutz then they will not be operating… at all.”
Above the O.R., there is a secluded box for interns to watch surgeries being performed below. Do interns actually watch other interns or attendings perform surgeries?
Mark: “The boxes do exist. They're usually reserved for nursing and medical students. Not that common for interns, who are usually in the operating room. Today it’s much less common in this new era of improved patient privacy. Usually videos are more common now.”
Judy: “The boxes are too far away to see anything! They’re from the 19th century. Videos are the way we do it now.
Is "007" a name interns actually use when someone fails on a surgery and endangers the life of a patient, essentially having a “license to kill” like George O'Malley? Or was that just invented for the show?
Mark: “007 is the correct term, yes.”
Cristina Yang calls surgery the “hot ticket,” like “the marines. It’s macho. It’s hostile, it’s hardcore.” Was surgery the hot ticket for interns?
Mark: “She is correct that surgery is macho and like the marines. However, by the time you’re an intern, you’ve already decided if you’re a surgical or medical intern, so it’s not a hot ticket for all interns… the show doesn’t seem to differentiate between the medical and surgical interns.”
Does "code blue" mean that a heart has stopped?
Mark: “Yes, code blue means the heart has stopped or that the patient has stopped breathing.”
Do interns really practice suturing on bananas?
Mark: “Unlikely that interns use bananas to practice suturing. Usually they use pig skin.”
Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy premieres November 12 on ABC.