In one of the most memorable scenes from “Grey’s Anatomy” Season 2, intern Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and head of neurosurgery Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) get it on in a Seattle Grace Hospital exam room while their colleagues attend a prom-style event for Richard Webber’s (James Pickens Jr.) cancer-stricken teenage niece. The pair, having been torn apart by the sudden employment of Derek’s estranged wife and fellow doctor Addison (Kate Walsh), dramatically reunite in only the way a fated TV couple can, culminating in Meredith’s misplaced underwear being pinned on a staff bulletin board.
The whole thing is hot. It’s steamy. And it’s incredibly far-fetched.
There are lots of medical dramas on the air ― “Grey’s,” “Chicago Med,” “9-1-1,” “Code Black,” “The Resident,” etc. And each and every one features an unbelievable sex scene, during which surgeons hook up with interns (or nurses hook up with doctors, or chiefs hook up with residents ― you get it), turning their hospital’s on-call room into a veritable den of (consensual) sex among otherwise expertly professional co-workers.
Ahead of the “Grey’s” Season 14 finale, we found ourselves contemplating several questions. Will April Kepner (Sarah Drew) get a happy ending? Will Alex (Justin Chambers) and Jo’s (Camilla Luddington) wedding go off without a hitch? Will Carina (Stefania Spampinato) follow Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) to New York? But none were more pressing than this longtime contemplation: Are the sex scenes on the show realistic?
So, HuffPost decided to get down to it and ask medical professionals what really happens in on-call rooms. Behold, the truth:
Scenario 1: Sex In The Supply Closet (Or The On-Call Room, Or Empty Exam Rooms…)
In Season 2, Episode 16 of “Grey’s,” Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) summons her friend-with-benefits Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) into a medical supply closet with the classic pickup line: “Do you want to stand there and talk metaphors or do you want to literally take off your pants?” Spoiler! He takes off his pants. Thus the question: Are doctors really hooking up in supply closets?
According to Dr. Jen Gunter, a San Francisco Bay Area OB/GYN and author, most on-call rooms in hospitals are “gross and often you share them with someone else.”
“I have never, ever in my 30-plus years in the medical field heard of anyone ever making out in a supply closet. I have never heard of anyone having sex in an on-call room. Might it happen very occasionally? I guess,” she said.
A Philadelphia-based registered nurse named Meg (who preferred not to use her last name in this piece, because, well, who can blame her), said stairwells ― not supply closets, on-call rooms or exam rooms ― are where the secret hookups happen.
“I don’t know of it ever happening in empty patient rooms or supply closets. People are in and out of the supply room on the units all the time,” she said. “I have heard of people getting caught in stairwells and I have also heard of people getting caught in locker rooms.”
“I know of a girl hooking up in a stairwell,” Jessica, an RN based in Boston, said. “Less scandal than people think in general, though!”
Eileen, a travel RN who’s worked in cities including New York, Seattle, San Diego and Boulder, said she knows of co-workers “sleeping with each other in their office and in an on-call room, always somewhere that has a lock on the door.”
And a pediatrician in Westchester County, New York, who asked to remain anonymous, only wished life in a hospital was so exciting. “It may be that pediatricians are just way more boring than doctors in other specialties. I do know of a teenage patient who was caught hooking up with her boyfriend while admitted to the hospital ― we had to set up some stricter rules on visitors after that.”
Scenario 2: Big-Shot Surgeons Who Hook Up With Their Junior Colleagues
Throughout “Grey’s” Season 5, plastic surgeon Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) pursues intern Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) ― R.I.P., but let’s NOT relive that devastation ― despite warnings from Meredith and Derek against it. (Lexie is Meredith’s younger half-sister, after all.) The will-they-or-won’t-they, “inappropriate” relationship between Mark and Lexie became one of the most beloved by fans. But, do surgeons actually hook up with nurses, interns or students?
“I am aware of a scrub tech nurse who was involved with an orthopedic surgeon. They had a sexual relationship and she would send him naked pictures, which he would email to himself in the call-dictation room and save to the computer there to look at,” a Virginia-based nurse practitioner, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained. “Needless to say, he didn’t always remember to close out of the pictures before leaving. We all knew a lot more about that nurse than we wanted to!”
Meg said she knows a few residents who have dated junior colleagues, with some relationships eventually resulting in marriage.
“We had a RN dating her manager ― it was kept hush-hush until she resigned and now they are married. Really it happens a ton!” she said. “I think there is a draw to a co-worker you spend lots of time with, who is smart and accomplished. They understand your stress level and what you go through. I think that it’s a lot harder to find a non-medical person who understands what a person in medicine would understand. Residents often marry other residents for this reason.”
Still, the nurse practitioner said, television shows tend to amp up the drama in these budding romances. “I no longer watch medical shows very much. I dislike how much romance there is among staff members, because I feel like it’s unrealistic.”
“It is a lie,” redditor TsukasaHimura reiterated in a thread about this topic. “Most doctors I work with are old and mean. I won’t have sex with any of them.”
Eileen, however, said she actually knows of a few racy doctor-nurse hookups.
“I have a friend who was engaged to be married and started working at my hospital. She started seeing this doctor we work with and started sleeping with him almost immediately. He was way older and not attractive, but he had money, power and gave her a whole lot of attention. I remember her telling me she would go into the staff bathroom and take nude pictures to send to him. I know they had sex in a staircase and in his office. She broke off her engagement because she felt guilty, and she did not end up with the doctor.”
Scenario 3: Habitual Drunken Nights Out With Colleagues
On many an occasion, the employees of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital head to their local bar, Joe’s Pub, to let loose. Darts are thrown, shots are taken, dancing ensues. Is Joe’s Pub a fantasy, or is there truth to those tequila-filled nights?
“My nurse friends and I absolutely got hammered together,” the nurse practitioner said, with Jessica adding, “Nurses be crazy!”
“I went out more when I worked a night shift. Bloody Mary’s and beers at 7:30 a.m. before going to bed is way better than you would think,” Eileen said. “I haven’t really seen a post-work outing get drunk, but I have definitely seen it at retirement parties, birthday parties, etc.”
“All of the units I have worked on over the last 10 years always involved booze,” Meg said. “Usually, there is a bar or restaurant that is favored and you often see other employees there from different departments. I have also seen physicians out at restaurants being quite close to females that I know are not their wife!”
The Westchester pediatrician, however, said drunken nights out have dwindled since the days of residency training.
“I definitely went out frequently after shifts then. And getting drunk was certainly one way we coped with the stress and exhaustion of 80-hour work weeks during residency,” the pediatrician said. “I did know of colleagues who would go out to happy hour and then go to work a midnight ER shift. It was always a careful balance and calculation to make sure you were sober well before your shift started.”
Scenario 5: All The Cheating Scandals
In probably the most famous cheating scandal from “Grey’s,” Derek’s wife Addison sleeps with his best friend, Mark Sloan. (McDreamy vs. McSteamy, remember? Both of them are now dead, unfortunately.) The affair is told over the course of a few seasons, leading to Derek’s eventual, on-and-off romance with Meredith. But how common are cheating scandals in hospitals?
Common, it seems.
“Worked in a place full of affairs between various staff members,” a doctor with a hidden username on Reddit wrote. “Got accused of it myself many times but was smart enough to not stick my hand in that trap.”
“We had an attending who had an affair with a nurse and [he] got her pregnant,” a Chicago-based labor and delivery nurse, who chose to remain anonymous, told me. “He stayed with his wife and paid off the nurse.”
“There have been wife visits that accidentally overlap with girlfriend visits that result in security being called,” Meg added. “When the baby stroller was thrown I just walked the other way.”
The hospital atmosphere lends itself to flirtatious exchanges, the medical professionals explained, as long shifts or hours in surgery can grow dull.
“There will always be doctors who are flirty and enjoy the interaction between young nurses and them in a position of power,” Meg said.
Eileen watched a good friend’s marriage fall apart due to an affair with a doctor at her hospital.
“One of my best friends was sleeping with a doctor we worked with, even though she was getting married soon after that happened. This doctor had some serious charm and tried to get in the pants of any young, attractive, female employee. It worked. On a lot of them. She even slept with him the night before her wedding,” Eileen revealed. “This continued post-wedding even though she tried to stay away. This doctor made sure he was always around and on her mind. She is now divorced and no longer has a relationship with this doctor.”
“Being married can be hard. Relationships are hard,” Gunter explained. “Along the way I have met doctors who have left their spouses for other doctors or for nurses or other medical professionals. I wouldn’t call that a scandal. It’s not 1918.”
Bonus Scenario 1: While We’re On The Subject, What About Drug Use?
Sex isn’t the only taboo topic addressed on hospital shows. On the latest season of “Grey’s,” some of the residents accidentally eat weed cookies, and stereotypical madness ensues. We’ve also seen Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) grapple with serious addiction issues on both “Grey’s Anatomy” and spinoff “Private Practice.” Are drugs a real issue in the medical world?
Drug use is actually pretty common in hospitals, with some employees selling meds, as well.
“There are physicians with addiction issues like there are in any field,” Gunter said.
According to Meg, some of her co-workers have been caught using and distributing drugs on the job.
“I know that in situations where nurses were using they were offered rehab and had strict rules to adhere to. They had to leave bedside nursing for treatment and once completed they were able to return to less stressful work in the hospital under more supervision until they were deemed ready for greater responsibility,” she said. “I think for the most part things are kept very quiet when these situations occur.”
“My un-expecting co-worker was fired for stealing drugs,” Jessica said. “This happens more often than people think.”
“I live in Colorado. Most of my coworkers smoke pot, but not on the job and not before going to work,” Eileen added. “I do know of two nurses who have stolen IV and PO pain medications for themselves. I do not know if they were ever impaired while working, but they were both caught and neither will ever be a nurse again.”
Bonus Scenario 2: Tell Us About The Ghosts
In Season 5 of “Grey’s,” Izzie, hallucinating thanks to a brain tumor, strikes up a romance with a ghost version of her late fiancé, the adored and never forgotten Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). (This whole storyline was reportedly concocted to give Heigl the “Emmy-worthy material” she wanted. Instead, it led some viewers, and Heigl, to quit the show.) Actually, spirits were common enough on “Grey’s,” and for the 300th episode, Shonda Rhimes brought back “ghosts” or look-alikes of Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) and Izzie to bring viewers back to the early days of Seattle Grace Hospital.
As chilling as it sounds, spirits do exist in hospitals, at least according to Meg.
“Sometimes monitors do weird things or you feel a tingle on the back of your neck! If you believe in spirits you have to think they are there. So many souls are departing from the hospital every day. If you can’t open the window, I have known nurses that flush the toilet to let the spirt leave!”
All in all, however, the lives of doctors or nurses on medical dramas are markedly more implausible than their real-life counterparts. Most of the sources I spoke to said they don’t really watch the procedurals anymore, as the storylines are overly dramatic and fairly unrealistic.
Eileen admitted, “I definitely see similarities: dealing with a patient who goes into cardiac arrest, a massive trauma, hospital overload due to a natural disaster, a gunman in the hospital. However, these are more rare than commonplace. Maybe once or twice a month I have shift as crazy as one they portray on TV.”
“I think some shows do a better job,” Meg added. ”‘Nurse Jackie’ did a better job than most.” In Gunter’s opinion, “Scrubs” “got to the heart of medicine the best.”
“From what I remember, I think ‘ER’ was the most accurate,” the pediatrician added. “The drama on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ definitely was way more extreme than anything I encountered in a real hospital.”