General Surgery is NOT Grey’s Anatomy

Today is an epic milestone for me!  I survived my general surgery rotations… Both of them!  And I liked them.  And did well on them.  What a shock to the system!

Often when I have tried to explain to people that I am on general surgery and have little spare time or sleep and such they ask if it is like Grey’s Anatomy.

No surgery team looks like this. Image from

And thus, I present to you my list of how life on general surgery although with some very superficial similarities, is not like Grey’s Anatomy.

Slightly more realistic surgery team… Slightly. Image from

To start, the similarities:

  • There really is a chain of command.  Interns answer to senior residents who answer to fellows who answer to attendings.  And sometimes people try to breach that and it can get you into trouble.  And some of the people at the top are nasty or manipulative, but most of them are just doing their job the best way they know how.
  • We really do use pigs and dummies to learn to operate and do procedures.
  • Interns do not see the inside of the OR very often.  And often when they do, it is an emergency, a boring case or something people need a hand on.
  • People do indeed come to hospital with ridiculous problems all the time.
  • Surgery is a tiring and emotionally straining field.  The hours are as crazy as they make them appear.
  • 24 hour call is a real thing.
  • People’s personal lives outside of the hospital keep happening despite all of the work and sometimes get pretty messed up as a result of all of the work.
  • Failing an exam does indeed mean you can be held back a year.

And now, the differences:

  • Nobody looks that good after working 24 hours.  Nobody.
  • Scrubs in real life don’t fit that well.  They are gender neutral and height neutral.   Tall people look like they are braving a flood.  Short people slip on their pants all day.  They aren’t flattering… Ever.

    What Izzy looks like in scrubs. Image from

    What I kind of look like in scrubs. Image from the

  • Although some people wear long sleeved shirts under their scrub tops, they are not conducive to going to the OR.  Your face would get eaten for sure.
  • For more face eating… The people on Grey’s often scrub incorrectly.  You can’t touch anything after scrubbing.  One should have their cap and mask on prior to scrubbing.  They fail at this regularly.
  • And face eating again… One wears a mask when entering an operating room in progress.  Always.
  • You can loose your medical license for dating patients.  It is actually unethical.
  • You will get fired for sure if you kill someone intentionally, blow a clinical trial intentionally or repeatedly cause all sorts of trouble by undermining staff, endangering patients and having inappropriate relationships.
  • Jobs do not just materialize from thin air.  Nor do fellowships.
  • You can’t just spend your entire residency doing one type of surgery if you are in general surgery.  Also, ortho is another specialty altogether.  And you can’t just hop from surgeon to surgeon at your own whim.  There are set rotations.
  • I will admit that people have been known, from time to time, to do it in the call rooms.  But, not at the frequency, rate or sheer volume as portrayed on Grey’s.  In fact, it is a rare rebel sort of exception as opposed to the rule.
  • Call rooms are not that nice.  Often they resemble patient rooms or ratty college dorm.
  • First year residents don’t get sent to operate all willy nilly ever!
  • Interns do not only do surgery.  They rotate through other stuff.  You can’t just wander off and do something else at random because you get tired of surgery.
  • Residents in generally do much of the work, but they can’t just  go do surgeries or make all the decisions.  Attendings are still in charge overall.  They can’t go all Christina Yang and mysteriously do a ton of procedures.

    What would happen if interns could operate all willy nilly. Image from

  • Although I have seen people bring their small children to work, it is usually a very temporary and desperate measure.  They don’t just get passed from nurse to resident to staff member at random.
  • If you call residents by numbers or “dwarf names” you can get charged with harassment.
  • You just don’t air that much of your dirty laundry at work.  Your personal life is your personal life.  You can be friends, but full on arguments about who slept with who at the nurse’s station will get you into big trouble.
  • Sleeping with co-workers is frowned upon.  Especially when they are your supervisor.
  • People do go out and drink to drown their sorrows… But not that late and not every night.  Especially not on nights where your pager might go off.  Personally, I prefer drowning my sorrows with food or coffee… You can do that whenever.
  • It is just ridiculous that so much bad stuff would happen to a person or group of people.
  • Surgeons do not generally get that emotionally involved in the lives of their patients. There are limits.  It is good to care, but it is bad to become so involved you cause harm.
  • One does not care for their own relatives while they are in the hospital.
  • I don’t know anyone who would wear roller shoes to get around the hospital (though if I did, they would be awesome).
  • You compete, but things can’t be that cut throat.  You need your fellow residents to survive (I guess their friendships aren’t that unrealistic).
  • You rarely, if ever have enough time to eat a leisurely cafeteria/hallway/coma guy room lunch.  Most days, you do well to have lunch.
  • You can’t just hang out in a patient room and eat lunch while they lay there in a coma.
  • In med school, we sat on the floor in the locker room. Now I hide in the resident’s room. But never did I ever have time to have a prolonged lunch and hang out with coma guy. Image from

  • Not answering your pager is bad.
  • Ignoring patient wishes and requests and going behind people’s backs is bad.  And can get you in big trouble.
  • You can’t just not show up to work.  And the entire hospital full of nurses can’t strike simultaneously.  That would be dangerous.
  • Surgeons do not run the emergency room.  Despite how it appears on the show.  They are consultants.  They consult.  And do traumas.  That is all.
  • People don’t use the word stat that many times in the run of the day.  We speak like humans.  I swear.

I could go on and on.  As much as the show angers me, I keep watching it.  Some sort of strange solidarity because I followed it for so long.  Since it was less bad and less soap opera-ish.  I cry pretty much every episode.  I get ticked off at the errors in pretty much every episode.  Funny how that works.

I do love that recently they seem to mock the fact every once in awhile things are kind of ridiculous.

I also like the start and end of episode monologues.  Even though other shows copy it and it is kind of melodramatic.

Image from

I am glad real life isn’t like that.  I am also glad my life is straying away from some of the similarities too.

28 thoughts on “General Surgery is NOT Grey’s Anatomy

  1. One of my surgeon docs wears black scrubs and he looks really good in them. My eye doctor, who is a very tall attractive lady, does not. She also wears a hair cap thingie when she does surgery. This was really interesting.

    • Funny how it works. If you are the right build and size you can pull off the scrubs. I look crazy. With the hair cap thingie even more so. Such is life.
      Glad you found it interesting.

  2. Most excellent observations! Congrats on surviving and flourishing in Gen Surg: it’s good learning, but quite lovely when it’s over!

    Yes, call room booty call does happen: been next door to those people three times now. Mostly, we are far too tired to study, let alone bootay call.

    Grey’s is a funny show in that it has really shaped what people think of the hospital. Confronting those TV stereotypes is actually fun at times… And no, locker rooms aren’t shared: men are separate from women.

    That’s all for now.

  3. Pingback: Grey’s Anatomy: That Awkward Moment | Whispers of a Barefoot Medical Student

    • Glad you got a laugh about it.
      Hideouts seem to be discovered during the clinical years. It is like giant chunks of hospital finally appear out of the woodwork!

  4. Pingback: ID compared to House, MD | At least we made it this far...

  5. I was in law school back during the heyday of the TV series “L.A. Law.” I’m sure they had consultants just like “Grey’s,” but I remember shouting at the screen at the stupid errors that even a law student could recognize. “L.A. Law” aired on Thursday nights and I had one law professor who, every Friday morning, would point out something related to the previous night’s episode.

    My favorite hospital show will always be the short-lived “Nightingales.” While much of the “Grey’s” nonsense prevailed, that show had heart. It certainly opened my eyes to some of the things that nurses have to go through.

    • I love that your professor would point out the flaws in the show! I always assumed law shows and police shows and such probably had as many errors as the medical ones.
      Funny how they do that.
      I have not heard of Nightingales. I might try to find it somewhere in the ethers of the internet.

  6. Pingback: How Did That Happen? New Series | At least we made it this far...

  7. Haha nice job on this! Im not even in the medical field.. But I’ve pretty much lived in hospitals for weeks/months at a time! I could go on and on adding to your lists! One huge thing that annoys me in Grey’s is how the surgeons take patients to and from tests (MRI’s etc) and even DO the tests! That just NEVER happens. Maybe once in a blue moon a surgeon may do it themselves to make sure no one screws things up, or whatever, but that is soo very rare! Most of the time there’s a transport department, they come and get the patients then leave them in the hallway until the radiologist/tech gets them and they do the tests. Makes me mad when the show has an attending wheeling a patient stretcher. *hmph!*.

    I’m on the Criminal Justice field, I work at a police department, and I get the same exact way when I watch shows like CSI, NCIS or Law&Order because most of the things they have ppl in the show doing would never ever happen! CSI especially maddens me when they have the crime lab guys interviewing and arresting people-or even telling a police ofc to arrest’s absolute absurdity! They would NEVER go to half incidents they do in the show.. They don’t search buildings and stake out suspects… Blah. Sorry I could go on and on! But you get the point!!!
    Maybe I’ll write up something like this someday!

    I do have a question for you maybe you’d know. How do these shows make things look so real! I’m watching The Night Shift, the new show, and they showed the resident doing a the parking lot..(would never happen in reality)! But it looked like she was really cutting the dood’s neck open! It didn’t look at all like the guy had a fake neck on or whatever cause they showed him from the side. They do things that look soooo real it’s amazing!


    • Haha, thanks!
      You know the hospital system well. I can count on one hand the times I have taken my own patients to tests (giving directions or walking someone somewhere is another ballgame, but actually wheeling someone somewhere and sticking around, not so much). They are taking someone’s job!
      You should write something like this. Shows take so many liberties.
      Make up artists and special effects people are amazing these days. I have no clue how they do it. Any fake neck I worked on (seriously, we do that to learn how to do things like tracheostomies and chest tubes) did not look as real as some of the things on TV.

  8. this was really interesting! it honestly opened my eyes! 🙂 I know it’s been two whole years since you wrote that, but I was just wondering, was it worth going to medical school? I am thinking to study medicine, it has been my dream since I was 10 and I am currently in high school, so I have to make this decision now (so I can choose the appropriate classes) and I really really want it. I want to help people… but I am not quite sure if I can handle all those years of studying at medical school? it’s obvious that it’s hard but is it THAT hard?? And just one last question: where did you study and was it good?

    • Boston University – and it was wonderful. Perhaps the best training around. Some of the ultra-ultra-ultra programs are all about the fellows and nothing about the students. But BU was tops for the medical students.
      And it is survivable, indeed. It just vacuums up all your free time. If medicine is your joy, go for it – but remember, you have to keep the flame alive in your own heart. I went because I was kinda…meant to on the inside, I suppose. But a lot of what is going on in medicine today is dehumanizing and numbing. Don’t expect any rewards to come in from the outside, when you get into practice. Compliments from the patients are great – but everyone else can be a wet blanket for a doctor’s daily life. And your final attending is always a lawyer.

    • I’m glad you liked it and it was eye opening. 🙂

      Med school is challenging. I think it is something you have to really want to do, but if you are able to get in to med school, it is achievable. It doesn’t just end with med school, there is residency and practice all of which have their own challenges. It was worth it for me, personally, but I know people who really struggled through it and aren’t the happiest with their choice.

      I will say that there are lots of awesome ways to help people (that involve less time in school) than being a doctor, so weigh your options wisely. Nursing, social work and many other professions help people and often in a way that is, at times, more hands on. Think about what helping people looks like to you and what your motivations for going into medicine really are. I would suggest volunteering in a health care setting. A real health care setting around real sick people (not just in a gift shop) to see what you think. And maybe even job shadowing a physician or other health care professional to see what their day looks like. And do what interests you in undergraduate university (if you are in a country that requires you to do that), not just what will get you into med school, because it is important you like what you do in the here and now, not just the future. Plus, sometimes it takes a few tries to get into med school, so a fall back is nice.

      I went to a small med school in Eastern Canada. It was excellent.

  9. Pingback: Overview of Grey’s Anatomy | A Cluster of Ideas

  10. Hi! I love your blog!!! Is there a mailing list I could be added too? I also watch Greys Anatomy and can only assume that it’s hardly realistic. Same way with the show “smash” based on what I do for a living. A lot of the time NONE of that would happen but I can’t stop watching it!!!

    • Hi and welcome! If you click the follow link on the side bar towards the top of any page, it will offer to set you up with email updates. 🙂
      That is too funny about “Smash.” It is strange how sometimes we get hooked on things that are supposed to look like our lives but really have nothing to do with them. I guess that is really the principle of TV in the first place.

  11. This was so funny! I really enjoyed it all as I am also hooked to the show. thanks for the laugh!
    One question, can interns/residents really steal each other’s surgeries in real life? is the competition that intense?

    • I’m not a surgeon, so I can’t speak from my own experience except for what I have seen or how it translates in my own field. For the most part, from what I have seen where I work, people are assigned certain surgeons and as a result do certain cases, so there is not that crazy stealing surgery stuff like you see all the time on Grey’s. At the same time, people are people and do sometimes sneak in on things or try to work their way in or compete to get extra chances or time. A lot of people just try to help each other out and get in on cases where they can but respect other’s schedules because they are put in place for a reason.

  12. Pingback: 5 Key Ways to Get the Most From Your University Experience |

Please, share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s