Katherine Heigl Shares Why Grey's Anatomy Was 'Not Healthy For Me' Ahead Of Leaving The Show

Katherine Heigl on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: ABC)

Katherine Heigl joined Grey’s Anatomy at the ground level in 2005, as Izzie Stevens, one of the five initial interns at the Seattle hospital. While the show is still a hit on ABC, the actress’ relationship with it soured fairly early on. The drama between Heigl and creator Shonda Rhimes has been well-documented, and it resulted in her being released early from her contract in Season 6. Over a decade has passed, and the Firefly Lane star recently opened up about why Grey’s Anatomy was “not healthy” for her, and why she felt she had to leave.

Katherine Heigl had been vocal about her issues on set — which she called “a filter problem” — including long work hours, contract negotiations and her character’s material. The actress spoke to Sirius XM’s Bevy Smith about what transpired back in 2010, and said while she can see how Grey’s Anatomy was having a negative impact on her life, she sometimes wonders if there was a compromise that could have been found. In her words:

I look back at it and sometimes I go, 'God, I wish I had just calmed down a moment. Taken a breath, thought it through, had some conversations about, ‘What about this possibility? What about this possibility? How about if I do, you know, just this many episodes a season?' Like, if I could have found a way to work within it, that could have also worked for me. But I only saw it as this one thing: I was up here at a level of intensity that was not healthy for me. And I just kind of fled in a panic.

It seems like time has provided Katherine Heigl with some perspective on the situation, but she admits she didn’t know the best way to handle it at the time. (And who knows if anything would have worked anyway.) She continued: 

I think with Grey's at that time, I didn't feel I had any other choice. I was breaking. It was breaking me, and I was young. I didn’t know how to get through it. I hadn’t garnered enough experience and wisdom yet to get myself through it with less heightened anxiety. I mean, I was vibrating at a level that I was gonna get sick and, you know, I did get mentally sick.

Katherine Heigl isn’t the only Grey’s Anatomy veteran who’s spoken out about the tough working conditions on the series’ earlier seasons. Ellen Pompeo, who will say goodbye to the show when it returns to ABC on February 23, said on her podcast Tell Me (opens in new tab) that Heigl was “100 percent right” to speak out about the 17-hour workdays, and if she’d said those things today, she’d be “a complete hero.” However, back then, she gained a reputation for being ungrateful.

Sandra Oh, who played Cristina Yang for 10 seasons, has also described her time on Grey’s Anatomy as “traumatic,” mostly due to how popular the series became so quickly. The stress over her sudden loss of anonymity caused her to get “very very sick,” and she has said she realized that she needed to prioritize her health.

It seems like things have improved on the set of Grey’s Anatomy since then, and Katherine Heigl has other projects to focus on now. The second season of Firefly Lane is now available for streaming with a Netflix subscription, as are the first 18 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. Season 19 of the medical drama will resume at 9 p.m. ET Thursday, February 23, 2023, and be sure to check out our 2023 TV schedule to see what else is coming in the new year. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.