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Anna Melio on the set of Grey's Anatomy

Unique Fellowship Gives Residents the Opportunity to be on Set of Grey’s Anatomy

When watching the popular television show Grey’s Anatomy, you might wonder how the writers are able to create such engaging and medically complex storylines. From operating room scenes depicting intricate surgical techniques to characters identifying a rare medical condition, the scenes feel like they are based in reality, and there's a good reason for that.

For about six weeks, two Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH) residents, Anna Melio and Oriyomi Alimi, participated in the Grey’s Anatomy Communications Fellowship Program in Los Angeles, a unique program that gives residents the opportunity to work alongside Grey’s Anatomy writers. They got to experience what goes into making the show firsthand-and they got to weigh in. The residents worked with the writing staff to help craft medically-accurate episodes. They shared their own clinical experiences and acted as references for medical topics in the writing room. They also worked on scripts, filling in any blanks left by the writers for medical jargon, surgical terms, and more.  

Anna Melio
Anna Melio
Oriyomi Alimi
Oriyomi Alimi

As general surgery and urology residents, Melio and Alimi are comfortable in operating rooms. So, when Grey’s Anatomy writers asked what it’s like to scrub into a surgery, they had a lot of knowledge to share. 

“Surgery is a scary world if you are unfamiliar with it, and many of the people I operate on get their introduction to that world of medicine through shows like Grey’s Anatomy,” Melio said. “Being involved in shaping that introduction, and learning the ways in which medicine is translated to media, as a surgeon, felt incredibly important.”

Melio believes the show accurately portrays the emotions residents feel, and the passion they have for operating. Although she also admits, there is a bit of Hollywood sprinkled in. 

“I think it shows the tragedy, the anxiety, the stress, and the joys when you succeed, in a way that feels true to my experience,” she said. “I also know that the ways in which it may not reflect my experience are what make the show so great to watch.”

Melio says it was apparent that the cast and crew were committed to making the show medically accurate. They were meticulous in nailing down details, from correct pronunciations of medical terms to accurately depicting tissue and blood in the operating room; they even interviewed world-renowned researchers and medical experts to ensure stories were factually backed.

“I got to see what it's like to create something that has so much reach and impact in terms of telling human stories and inspiring people to want to pursue medicine,” Alimi said.

Melio grew up watching the beloved show as a teenager, and looked up to the characters on the show. Her path to medicine started when she was in college. After taking an EMT certification course, she got serious about pursuing a career in medicine. She imagined herself becoming an emergency room doctor until she started a surgical rotation and fell in love with the operating room. When Melio matched and became a resident at VMFH, her friends joked she would become Meredith Grey-following in the footsteps of her favorite Grey’s Anatomy character and moving to Seattle.

Alimi said Grey’s Anatomy influenced his sister to pursue a career in medicine, and so when the opportunity to apply for the fellowship program with Grey’s Anatomy came about, he knew he couldn’t pass it up. It was a once in a lifetime experience. His journey to become a resident was one filled with twists and turns. In college, he studied pharmacy and thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps. A jarring and unexpected medical diagnosis turned his world upside down, and his plans changed. At 21 years old, Alimi was diagnosed with colon cancer. That experience opened his eyes up to the impact doctors have on a patient’s life, and he knew he could be that person for another. 

“I love taking care of people,” he said. “I want people to understand that I am caring for them the best way I can, and we're in this together.”

Having gone through a medical journey of his own and coming out the other side, he said he has been given a unique perspective, and a way to give to others what was given to him: a second chance at life.

Both Melio and Alimi said the writers wanted to know about their experiences as residents and also as people.

“As a surgeon who is a woman, it has always been very inspiring that Meredith Grey, and so many of the female surgeons at Grey’s, have held such a prominent place in pop-culture, in a field that was traditionally male-dominated. I think especially being surgery residents in Seattle, myself and many of my coresidents feel the influence of this show,” Melio said.

Melio offered more than just her clinical experience, she appeared in the background as an extra in two episodes, and helped set up surgical instruments and props on set. Alimi appeared in an episode as well. You can catch his cameo in the operating room.

Melio is not set on what exactly she wants to do yet, but is interested in surgical oncology. She’s currently in her third year residency as a general surgeon.

Alimi is in his third year of residency and plans on doing a transplant surgery fellowship.