Grey’s Anatomy has seen plenty of prominent characters exit the series over the years, but it still hurts when a popular character decides to say goodbye to the long-running ABC drama. Over the years, Patrick Dempsey has talked about leaving Grey’s Anatomy on numerous occasions, but it has recently been confirmed that his character Dr. Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy is leaving Seattle Grace Hospital, leaving Dempsey's future on the show pretty dim.

Grey’s Anatomy has not returned from winter hiatus, yet, but if you caught the midseason finale, you should know that Meredith tried to push Derek away during the final episode of 2014. Their relationship had not been in a particularly positive place, and Derek was resenting staying in Seattle when he could have taken a better job in Washington D.C. This week, Shonda Rhimes confirmed that Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t decided to do a storyline in Washington D.C. According to EW, we’ll probably see McDreamy on the show again… but he might take an extended leave of absence.
“It’s highly possible that we might not see Derek for a while. There will be a time when you see him again, yes, but it’s probable that you won’t see Derek for a while.”

Dempsey himself spoke out back in November to announce that he will be leaving the series ”very soon”, despite the fact that he is currently under a contract to appear in both Season 11 and Season 12, should ABC renew Grey’s Anatomy for the 2015-2016 season. Other actors have gotten out of contracts before, so it's hard to tell whether he is talking about an extended leave on the series or simply discussing quitting the show.

Then again, this isn’t the first time Patrick Dempsey has noted he would be leaving Grey’s Anatomy. Back in 2011, he made similar comments about leaving the show at the end of Season 8, statements which obviously did not turn out to be true. The actor has since re-upped his contracts for numerous seasons. Theoretically, this could just be an extended tease.

However, what is clear is that Dempsey's character is headed to D.C. and Rhimes has indicated he will most definitely be missing some episodes but should return at some point. Whether that means he will pop up from time to time or come back before getting written out completely remains to be seen. I’m sure Shonda Rhimes and ABC will get around to telling us in their own sweet time, probably after the show returns to the schedule on January 29.

If Dempsey does leave the show, he won’t be the first original cast member to do so. He follows a long line of names that includes Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight, Isaiah Washington and Sandra Oh. It should be noted that even Washington has popped up in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in 2014, so often a goodbye on the series doesn’t mean a goodbye forever.

Grey’s Anatomy returns to ABC’s schedule on Thursday, January 29 at 10 p.m. ET. Check out when the rest of your favorite shows are returning with our 2015 midseason schedule.

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