Grey’s Anatomy Season 16 addresses social determinants of health

A friend recently drew my attention to the fact that Season 16 of Grey’s Anatomy seemed different. I was like, Grey’s Anatomy is still a thing? (I didn’t realize the series was ongoing).

The difference this season is that Meredith Grey, the main character, is stirring things up. She falsified insurance documents so that one of her patients could receive the medical treatment that they otherwise would not have been able to afford. What she is doing is actually advocating for patients and addressing the social determinants of health.

The social determinants of health are those things that determine one’s health from a social point of view. Those who are poor or racialized, for example, often have worse health outcomes than those who are not. I’m currently working in Yellowknife where I am seeing this first-hand. Canada’s history of colonialism has resulted in social, economic and cultural marginalization for Indigenous peoples. This has a direct impact on health.

The irony in Grey’s Anatomy is that Meredith Grey is fired from her job for caring about her patients. Too often physicians can feel silenced to conduct the work of advocacy. We may feel pressure from the institutions that we work for. We may fear losing our jobs and our security, or even damaging our reputations. But the work of advocacy is so important. This is the work that can make an even greater difference than prescribing a medication. Overall, I’m impressed with Grey’s Anatomy for at least starting the conversation.

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