Medicine on TV

A DO is in the Grey’s Anatomy writers’ room

In her role as a Surgical Communications Fellow, Carisa Champion, DO, JD, MPH, consults on the medical aspects of the show and is also helping write scripts.

Carisa Champion, DO, JD, MPH, has professional interests that span beyond medicine to both law and public health. But through her training and experiences in those three fields, she said she’s always felt drawn to the arts.

So after a few years of hoping to further explore that passion for the arts by working on a medicine-related TV show, she jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Grey’s Anatomy Surgical Communications Fellowship. She’s been working on the show since July and will continue to through January before returning to her general surgery residency in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Media has always been something that lined up with my background and interests. Naturally, I’m an artistic person,” Dr. Champion said. “This was a way for me to honor my roots in public health and express those natural interests in the arts.”

In this edited Q&A, Dr. Champion discusses her involvement with production on the upcoming season, her role in the (virtual) writer’s room, and how Grey’s Anatomy balances entertaining viewers with striving to be as medically accurate as possible.

What was your opinion of Grey’s Anatomy before you worked for the show?

I hadn’t watched much TV in the last ten years, so I was never following it religiously. But I’ve watched the last few seasons and the first few, and I loved all the ones I’ve watched. I’m really excited about this season that will be coming out, too, I think it’s going to be good.

I was also always impressed with the accuracy of their medical information when I watched. It’s exciting to be part of a show that took that really seriously. They’re well aware that their show is an important platform that’s had a strong viewer base for 16 seasons. They know they have a big responsibility to portray everything as accurately as they possibly can.

What is your day-to-day experience like in the writers’ room?

It’s my job as a fellow to primarily work with the other doctors on the staff to guide the rest of the writers to be as medically accurate as we can. But we also get to help work on the storyline, and see how the show will go.

I pitch stories—medically related and non-medically related ones—which is fun. It’s not like they just come up with everything and run it by me to make sure everything is right. We work together in tandem, pitching stories to each other, writing the script and planning how the season will go.

It’s been cool to see the creative process. There’s so much more creativity involved than I could’ve thought. It’s amazing how much work goes into it and the different approaches that everybody takes.

How has production been impacted by COVID-19?

A lot of the work in the writers’ room is done over Zoom because of COVID-19. I’m still working in Los Angeles, though.

Production just started, and with the pandemic, everything is so abnormal, as far as who can be where at any given time and how things will be run. They’re making sure everyone is protected, from actors to staff.

We have to just hope we can film every episode we write, and that we can do it safely.

When we’re watching season 17, what can we look out for and know you impacted?

I’m not really allowed to give specifics! But anything medical, I’m involved in, be it the storyline or anywhere else.

All of the stories we use, for the most part, are based on things that have actually happened. Even if they’re really rare and crazy, it’s in the show because it actually happened before; it’s not some crazy thing we make up. We’re bringing attention to events that have actually occurred.

Season 17 of Grey’s Anatomy will air on ABC, date TBA. 

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