Sandra Oh as Dr Christine Yang then:
Oh was always an over-achiever. From age ten she was performing in musicals, organized her own drama projects, was elected student president, played the flute, and did ballet. She’d already appeared in AMC’s The Walking Dead but her turn as Christine Yang catapulted her career, earning the actress consecutive Emmy nods and award wins.
By channeling her own ambitions and work ethic into Christina, Oh was an immediate hit with the fans. After finishing her incredible ten-season run, Oh continued to produce sensational work, like the BBC’s obsession-driven spy thriller Killing Eve and the Chinese/Canadian coming-of-age film Turning Red.
Catherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens then:
Landing a core role in a medical drama at age 18 is an incredible amount of pressure for a young actress, but Heigl was no stranger to the limelight. She had been in TV for years by this point, and her earnest but warm professionalism coupled with an eagerness to prove herself mirrors Stevens perfectly.
Despite Heigl’s tumultuous exit from the show, spurred by her unhappiness with the direction her story was going, she was very much ready to step away and move on to bigger things. Her comedy chops and charisma in 2007s Knocked Up launched her as the rom-com queen and she has continued her unapologetic honesty and care for her craft, supporting the IATSE strike.
T R Knight as Dr. George O’Malley then:
His run only lasted five seasons, but he managed to transform the bumbling, insecure O’Malley into a competent addition to the team. It’s hard to endure that kind of character and make it believable to audiences, which might help explain why Knight left the show over creative differences. His character was sadly diagnosed with a fatal case of being hit by a bus.
Knight seemed honest in his creative intentions, choosing his roles carefully since exiting the show in 2009. He returned to mostly live performance, with several Broadway and off-Broadway roles as well as a few select TV appearances. He reprised his role as O’Malley for a dream sequence in season 17, offering his story a little closure.
Ellen Pompeo as Dr Meredith Grey then:
Ellen Pompeo went from a bartender in Miami to one of the highest-paid actors in the world. It was, after all, her anatomy. After being scouted by a L’Oréal and Citibank talent agent, she found her fame growing at an incredible speed. She stepped into the role with such confidence it lit the spark that made Grey’s Anatomy explode the way it did.
Grey’s Anatomy both made Pompeo a household name, and took up an awful lot of her time. Her acting roles outside the series were sparse, as she favored moving towards producing and executive roles. She expressed a lack of interest in continuing her acting career when the series ends and has cut back her role’s presence over time.
Kate Walsh as Dr. Addison Montgomery then:
Walsh entered the series as a semi-antagonist and continued as a whirlwind of love triangles and cutting-edge natal care. The drama and sexual tension she brought to the show helped pick up the energy partway through season one and led to the launch of the show’s first spin-off, Private Practice, which aired concurrently.
After six seasons of her own show, Walsh decided to retire the character, returning to Grey’s Anatomy for a tearful goodbye and a few guest cameos. Since leaving, she’s starred in several other hit shows, such as Netflix teen-angst extravaganza 13 Reasons Why, The Umbrella Academy, and Emily in Paris. She recently dropped news of her engagement accidentally on Instagram Live.
Isaiah Washington as Dr Preston Burke then:
The sharp and exceedingly talented Dr Burke was on the ball enough to woo even Dr Yang. His time on the show was short-lived, ending with him leaving Dr Yang at the altar and the hospital behind. This followed an on-set controversy surrounding Washington’s use of a homophobic slur towards Dempsey.
The storm surrounding the incident seemed to reside fast, with Burke apologizing and agreeing it was best he leave the show. This wasn’t the end of his acting career. He has kept a mostly low profile since, appearing in works on the CW and directing his own Western, Corsicana.
Chandra Wilson as Dr Miranda Bailey then:
Another show business veteran by the time of the show’s premiere. Her first show was The King and I when she was only five years old, she was in dance lessons and had already appeared in The Sopranos and Law and Order. Her debut on the show wasn’t until season six, but she immediately cemented her place alongside the already established crew.
Bailey’s tough-but-fair personality and heartfelt moments of vulnerability stuck a chord with critics and fans alike. Wilson however, was humble in the face of her new found fame, choosing to work only the jobs she felt necessary while being a public advocate for mental health and cycling vomit syndrome, a condition her daughter has been diagnosed with.
Patrick Dempsey as Dr Derek Shepherd then:
Season one’s mandatory heart-throb Dr Shepherd was a fan favorite, not just for his looks and night-time liaisons, but his ever-present brilliance and unwillingness to give up. That tenacity got him through a plane crash and a million arguments, and set him on the path of trying to cure Alzheimer’s after seeing how the disease devastated Miranda’s mother.
Shepherd’s death after so many brushes with demise felt surprisingly earned, letting teary-eyed viewers follow along with his consciousness as it fades through its final moments. Now acting is mostly a second job for Dempsey, who’s main passion is racing cars professionally. Now there’s that bad boy.
James Pickins Junior as Dr Richard Webber then:
The Cleveland-born performer was already well-established as a fine actor well before Grey’s Anatomy hit production. He’d appeared on The X Files as the FBI director for many seasons and starred alongside Samuel L Jackson and Denzel Washington in a stage production of A Soldier’s Play. His screen presence as Webber was demanding and authoritative.
Other than a brief cameo in the breakout neo-Western Paramount Plus series Yellowstone, you might not have seen Pickins in very much. It seems like a cowboy was very much the perfect role for him, as he prefers to live slowly by taking only a few jobs a year and is happily living the rest of his life with his two children and wife of 35 years.
Eric Dane as Dr Mark Sloan then:
While Shepherd brought the complicated, brooding and damaged hot-doctor vibe, Sloan was left to occupy the empty space as a womanizing, literal surface-level plastic surgeon. Somewhat similar to his recurring role in Charmed, Dane had the perfect face to play the smug wannabe playboy until he died in the plane crash.
Dane’s struggles with mental health and prescription drug misuse led him to seek help, entering a treatment center in 2011. He’s since continued a steady and strong career, including a staring role in the Michael Bay-produced series The Last Ship and the social media superhit Euphoria for HBO.
Sara Ramirez as Dr Callie Torres then:
Dr Torres has become one of the longest-running LGBTQ+ TV characters in history, and it helps that the writing creates such complex explorations of her bisexuality. It turned the normal soap-opera plot beats of grand betrayal and irreconcilable life choices into something that required a different handling, and Ramirez delivered that perfectly.
Their career trajectory took off with the incredible reception of Dr Torres and wasn’t content to let the representation stop there. Ramirez has become a vocal LGBTQ+ advocate, coming out as non-binary and acting as such in Sex And The City spinoff And Just Like That… and Madam President In 2015, they were awarded an Ally For Equality Award from the Human Rights Foundation.
Brooke Smith as Dr Erica Hahn then:
Though she initially joined the cast as an antagonist for Dr Burke, this cardiologist felt her heart being pulled towards Torres. Their relationship never got time to bloom. A stolen heart (literally) drove them apart and Hahn left the show before her character was able to develop too far, but she nonetheless left a lasting impression.
Smith spent the better part of the 90s on the silver screen, staring in romcoms and horror films like The Silence Of The Lambs. She would return to cinemas with a role in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar. Her earliest creative days were in the Manhattan punk scene, which she has recently released a photography collection showcasing.
Justin Chambers as Dr Alex Karev then:
One of Grey Sloan Memorial’s longest and most loyal soldiers, Chambers was born in Ohio but found his fame in Europe. He was discovered by a talent scout on the Paris metro and soon began modeling for the likes of Calvin Klein. Dr Karev’s intense looks and trauma-filled past were so irresistible, they couldn’t let go for 16 seasons.
Karev’s childhood was spent cleaning up after his parents drug habits, looped back around as he fell in love with a patient who lost her memory. The tragic conclusion marked the end of the character and Chamber would go on to star as Marlin Brando in The Offer, a fictionalized retelling of the making of The Godfather.
Cyler Lay as Lexie Grey then:
Though Lay was prolific in her early career, it was not an easy journey for the aspiring young actress. She had struggled with drug addiction and an eating disorder but recovered once her career began taking off with Not Another Teen Movie. Joining the cast in season three, the half-sister of Meredith kicked off a much-beloved arc.
Another tragic victim of the plane crash, Lexie’s death hit viewers hard, particularly for its effect on Mark. Lay seems to have a knack for playing the sisters of incredibly powerful feminist icons, as she would later appear as Alex Danvers, the adopted sister of Supergirl on both her show and CW’s The Flash.
Jessie Williams as Dr Jackson Avery then:
Entering the show during the sixth season, the charming but deeply insecure resident bears the weight of family legacy on his shoulders. This stopped him from ever truly flourishing as himself, and Williams’ infectious smile gave Avery a sense of real vulnerability. Though he gets a happy ending, the journey involved so much loss and heartbreak it still feels bittersweet.
His brotherly love for Dr Sloan and his skirt chasing tendencies were a huge hit with audiences, which meant Williams had a wealth of opportunities at his disposal. In 2011 he took his smoldering stare to Hollywood, appearing in Drew Goddard’s horror gem The Cabin in the Woods and lent his talent to videogames, with a feature role in 2018’s Detroit: Become Human.
Kevin McKidd as Dr Owen Hunt then:
This hardened and lovable veteran joined the cast in season five as and managed two marriages, the birth of his child and getting shot before his final appearance in season 19. He also appeared on both Seattle: Grace and Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team, solidifying his place in the Grey Cinematic Universe. Owen sold this gruff action man without his Scottish ancestry poking through the accent.
McKidd has continued acting since exiting the show, but also spend much of his time on the crew as director, helming over 20 episodes. He couldn’t completely leave Dr. Action Man behind, as he would later provide the voice for Captain “Soap” McTavish, the main character of the industry defining Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games.
Jessica Capshaw as Dr Arizona Robbins then:
Initially joining in season five, her relationship with Dr Torres was a long-time fan favourite. She was yet another well written character, who’s sexuality was treated with respect, and was given urgency to make mistakes and bounce back. Her optimism draining after the loss of Mark, and her leg during the plane crash was one of the events more devastating storylines.
Capshaw was one of ten siblings, so statistically at least one of them was bound become a star, beloved around the world. She’d already appeared in 2002’s Minority Report before Grey’s Anatomy, and is currently still working on screen, appearing in Holidate in 2020, and Dear Zoe in 2022. She’s also still active among the convention and super fan scene.
Camilla Ludington as Dr Jo Wilson then:
Even though she missed her first audition, and flubbed her first scene with Pompeo because she was star struck, Wilson was the only one of season nine’s fresh faced residents to stick around. According to Ludington, she was told the characters were written to fit the actors personalities, though she doesn’t see herself as quite so brash.
Ludington’s performances as Laura Croft in the 2010’s Tomb Raider games and her turn as Wilson were both huge roles. Since leaving the show, she has married fellow actor Mathew Alan, as seen in 13 Reason’s Why and a guest appearance on Grey’s Anatomy, and has had two children. She mostly sticks to voice acted roles.
Nora Zehetner as Dr Reed Adamson then:
Adamson’s untimely death was one of the show’s most shocking moments. She hadn’t been part of the show for long, and although at first she didn’t mesh well with her new team, she gradually became more amicable and friendly. The sudden and brutal manner of her murder and discovery is still pretty chilling.
Unlike many aspiring stars, Grey’s Anatomy was just a stepping stone in an already impressive career. She has popped up everywhere from American Pie two and 2006’s Heroes, to Mad Men, Designated Survivor and Agents of Shield. She also has a recurring role on the Disney Plus series The Right Stuff, a biographic series about astronaut John Glenn.
Kate Burton as Ellis Grey then:
It was the brilliance and instability of Ellis Grey that acts as the catalyst for much of Meredith’s story. She is an omnipresent force throughout the show even following her death, and her exploits in life, both good and bad, echo throughout the hospital she devoted her life to. Burton gave one of TV’s quintessential overbearing parent performances.
It would be easier to list the shows Kate Burton hasn’t featured on. She began her career in the 80s on and within the decade, had already landed notable roles on theatre, TV and film. Many modern audiences will recognise her from Scandal, where she played Vice President Langston, and the art connoisseurs will remember her appearance in 86’s Big Trouble in Little China.