"Grey's Anatomy" Ellen Pompeo
Credit: ABC

Paging Dr. Grey. Why is Ellen Pompeo leaving Grey’s Anatomy? Well, the answer is complicated. 

Pompeo made her debut as Dr. Meredith Grey on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy in March 2005. After more than 17 years and 19 seasons, Pompeo and her character seemingly left Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital in the Grey’s Anatomy mid-season premiere on February 23 — but the episode technically wasn’t her last appearance ever. “For the record, it’s not really my final,” Pompeo told Entertainment Tonight ahead of the mid-season premiere. “It’s a little bit of a trick they’re playing on people.” 

Deadline confirmed in August 2022 that Pompeo took a reduced role on the medical drama for season 19 and signed on to only appear in eight episodes. Despite her reduced role, Pompeo will remain as a executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy, and she’s also expected to appear in the season 19 finale. 

Pompeo is leaving Grey’s Anatomy to star in the Hulu limited series about a troubled orphan, Variety reported in August 2022. The show centers around a Midwest couple who adopts a child they believe is an 8-year-old girl. Later, they start to suspect she’s hiding a big secret about her identity from them. 

Why is Ellen Pompeo leaving Grey’s Anatomy

"Grey's Anatomy" Ellen Pompeo

Why is Ellen Pompeo leaving Grey’s Anatomy? Though the news of Pompeo stepping back from Grey’s Anatomy may be shocking to some fans, the move has been a long time coming. “I’ve been trying to focus on convincing everybody that it should end,” Pompeo told Insider of the show in December 2021. ” I feel like I’m the super naive one who keeps saying, ‘But what’s the story going to be, what story are we going to tell? And everyone’s like, ‘Who cares, Ellen? It makes a gazillion dollars.'”

Even in 2018, when the news of the $20 million-dollar deal that she signed with ABC in late 2017 to remain on Grey’s Anatomy became public, Pompeo was honest about the fact that she was losing interest in the show before she secured the highest paycheck of any woman on network TV. What I said to Shonda is the truth: ‘I don’t get to do anything else, and that’s frustrating for me creatively. I make 24 episodes of TV a year, and as part of this deal, I cannot appear anywhere else. And directing is cool but, to be honest, it just takes me away from my kids,’” she wrote in a 2018 essay for The Hollywood Reporter. 

Along with  her increased salary, Pompeo also started directing episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in 2017 during season 13 of the show. “Then I said, ‘So, it’s got to be a ton of money. And it has to help me with my producing because producing is something I really enjoy. That’s my creativity now,’” she continued in her essay for The Hollywood Reporter. At the time, Pompeo went so far as to describe acting as “boring” in the essay because, according to her, “an actor is the least powerful person on set.” She also noted that, because of her age, she thought it was “unrealistic” for her to set her sights on big roles in projects outside of Grey’s Anatomy.

How will Meredith Grey be written out of Grey’s Anatomy?

"Grey's Anatomy" Ellen Pompeo

How will Meredith Grey be written out of Grey’s Anatomy? Specific details about Meredith’s last episode on Grey’s Anatomy are being kept under wraps. But viewers learned on an earlier episode of season 19 that she’s headed to Boston to work for Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) at the Catherine Fox Foundation to start a research effort and hopefully find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. (Williams left Grey’s Anatomy after 12 seasons in 2022.)

After Meredith Grey left Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and Seattle on the February 23 episode, she became the final member of Grey’s Anatomy‘s original class of medical interns—which included George O’Malley (T.R. Knight), Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl)—to leave the series.

Knight exited Grey’s Anatomy as a series regular on the season five finale, which aired in 2009. He returned to guest star on an episode in season 17.  After making disparaging public remarks about Grey’s Anatomy and reported tension with creator Shonda Rhimes, Heigl appeared in her final episode of the show in a season six episode that aired in January 2010. Heigl hasn’t yet returned. 

Oh, who played Meredith’s best friend Dr. Cristina Yang, exited the series in 2014 after 10 consecutive seasons in the role. She went on to pursue other projects and has yet to return. Chambers suddenly exited the series in 2019. He also hasn’t returned.  

Will Ellen Pompeo return to Grey’s Anatomy

Will Ellen Pmpeo return to Grey’s Anatomy? Pompeo has hinted that she doesn’t plan on completely cutting ties with Grey’s Anatomy any time soon. “It’s still ‘Grey’s,’ she’s still there in spirit and that’s the house that Grey built, so she’s always there,” she told Entertainment Tonight in September 2022 of her character. “She just has to step away for a little bit to do a Hulu show. It’s a great company to work for and I’m really, really lucky that they’ve given me the opportunity to do both, and so I had to take it. 

In a November 2022 Instagram post, Pompeo thanked fans for their support. “I’m eternally grateful and humbled by the love and support you have all shown me, Meredith GREY and the show for 19 seasons,” she wrote in a photo caption. “Through it all….none of it …would have been possible without the best fans in the world. You all are RIDERS and you all have made the ride so fun and ICONIC!!I love you madly and appreciate you right back.” Once again, Pompeo assured everyone she’ll “definitely be back to visit.” 

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

Check out the real-life partners of your favorite Grey’s Anatomy stars in the gallery below