Why Ellen Pompeo Has Stayed On Grey's Anatomy For So Many Years

Grey's Anatomy Meredith Grey Ellen Pompeo ABC
(Image credit: Mike Rosenthal / ABC)

Ellen Pompeo is one of the only original cast members left on Grey’s Anatomy. After Justin Chambers abruptly exited the long-running medical drama last season as Alex Karev, Pompeo’s status changed in a way, as Meredith Grey became the only character still around from the group of surgical interns that started the series 15 years ago. Why has Pompeo stayed for so many years?

The Grey’s Anatomy veteran opened up about the reasons behind her decision to remain on the show for 16+ seasons. In that time, Ellen Pompeo said goodbye to a revolving door of co-stars, including long-time on-screen love interest Patrick Dempsey as McDreamy and one-time rival Kate Walsh as Addison. In the not-so-distant past, Pompeo had shared that she stayed with Grey’s Anatomy despite ten years of what she described as a “toxic work environment.” At the time, she revealed that providing for her family was part of what made her say, and she went a bit deeper on that topic for the pocast Jemele Hill is Unbothered. In her words:

For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career. I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood, so to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart. And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles. I don’t like chasing anything, ever. And acting, to me in my experience, is a lot of chasing. You gotta chase roles, you gotta beg for roles, you gotta convince people. And although I produce and it’s the same kind of a thing, I still do it from a place where I’m never that thirsty, because I’m financially set.

Chasing roles in Hollywood personally sounds exhausting, especially if one is a spouse and parent. It is a path that many of her former co-stars have decided to take, with Katherine Heigl, Patrick Dempsey, and others having left to pursue careers beyond Grey's Anatomy. Some have found more success than others, but Ellen Pompeo was not interested in being in a position where she was forced to hunt down such opportunities. Instead, Pompeo chose to value the financial stability Grey’s Anatomy had to offer her as her family grew.

Throughout it all, Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey has been front and center as she dealt with the death of McDreamy and ensuing love triangles, among other hyper-dramatic plotlines. Part of that decision also had to do with landing Grey’s Anatomy at a later point in life, as opposed to celebs who find overnight fame and success early on in adulthood. Pompeo said:

I got in the game late, Jemele. I didn’t start Grey’s until I was 33, and then I started having kids at 40. If I started the show when I was younger, 25, I probably would have dipped out when I was 31, 32, when my six-year contract was up. I knew coming up on 40, it’s like, I don’t want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging. I’d rather just see this as the blessing that it is.

Ellen Pompeo admits that if she had come onto Grey’s Anatomy circa her mid-twenties, her longevity on the show might not have matched our current reality. If she had landed Grey's earlier, Pompeo shared that she might have left when her first contract was up, similar to how many other primetime drama stars handle things. Life has a way of working out, though, and Pompeo has seemingly enjoyed her time over a decade and a half on the series.

That length of time that calls to mind other TV veterans who have stuck it out long-term with a series, such as the cast of The Simpsons or Law & Order: SVU. If it is not broken, don't attempt to land a show with a smaller paycheck, right? Instead of worrying about where she might work next, Ellen Pompeo is currently anticipating work starting up for Season 17. Grey's Anatomy is getting set to return this fall after having to cut the previous season short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

You can watch Ellen Pompeo during her early days on the medical drama. Grey’s Anatomy is currently streaming on Netflix, along with lots of new 2020 content. While you wait for Season 17 to kick off, keep yourself medicated with this fall’s premieres.

Britt Lawrence

Like a contented Hallmark movie character, Britt happily lives in the same city she grew up in. Along with movies and television, she is passionate about competitive figure skating. She has been writing about entertainment for 5 years, and as you may suspect, still finds it as entertaining to do as when she began.