Ellen Pompeo on Portraying Healthcare Workers on Grey's Anatomy amid COVID: 'It Was a Huge Responsibility'

Ellen Pompeo is giving credit where credit is due — in more ways than one!

In an interview with People (the TV Show!), the Grey's Anatomy actress — who recently partnered with Pandora North America and Children’s Institute in Los Angeles to support and celebrate teachers — opened up about her role as an executive producer on the ABC medical drama and why it was of great importance for the show to give viewers a glimpse into what healthcare workers go through on a daily basis amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"It's really serious what they're going through, and if we could put a face on those faceless healthcare workers … people just hear about them, or they see them behind masks," said Pompeo, 51. "Even though we are behind masks, so many people are familiar with our show, and that was something to take seriously. It was a huge responsibility. We were so eager to take it on. I have to say, everybody on the show, all the actors, are super dedicated to it, and really, really excited about getting something so meaningful to portray this season."

"Obviously, we'd rather not have COVID-19, but when you're doing a show for 17 seasons you're really looking for how to keep these stories going," she continued. "These healthcare workers gave it to us this season, so we feel really grateful to be able to tell the stories of these healthcare workers."

During last week's episode of the long-running ABC show, it was revealed that Pompeo's character, Meredith Grey, had gone from a doctor treating the coronavirus at every turn to a patient fighting it herself.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Krista Vernoff explained the decision behind seeing Meredith fight the virus firsthand, and why she felt it was important to use the show's global platform to shed light on the deadly virus.

"Last week we felt Meredith Grey's pain as a doctor treating an early surge of COVID patients," Vernoff told the outlet following Thursday's episode. “This week we begin to experience what it is for her to be a COVID patient herself.”

"Over 1,700 healthcare workers in the U.S. have died of COVID to date. Many thousands more have been infected. Healthcare workers are on the front lines of this crisis, living through a war for which they were not trained," she continued. "We saw an opportunity to dramatize and illuminate their plight through the incredibly well-loved and well-known character of Meredith Grey."

"Doctors and nurses are fighting for us and falling for us. The least we can do is wear a mask, socially distance and stay home whenever possible," she added.

On top of honoring healthcare workers, Pompeo has been eager to support another group of individuals that deserve just as much recognition — teachers.

In November, Pompeo and Pandora North America surprised preschool teacher Citlali Gudino and honored her for her dedication to her students.

"I think that right now, the most important thing for all of us is to think about other people," Pompeo told People (the TV Show!). "I think that's what we need to be doing right now. It's the universal truth. We need to think about others, and do things for others, and do things in the spirit of thinking about others. Pandora North America, wanting to honor teachers and celebrate teachers, how do you say no to that? How do you not come down to South Central and give a teacher a bag full of diamonds? This is the most fun thing I've done in a while."

During Pompeo's visit, the two discussed the struggles of COVID-era learning, the teacher’s education journey and her passion for teaching. Pompeo also shared that because of her dedication, Pandora would be making a donation to Children’s Institute.

"Citlali was nominated by two of her colleagues," Pompeo explained. "I think both were supervisors of hers, and they just think she's been extraordinary and gone above and beyond and brought not only innovation to the teaching, but a real spirit and enthusiasm, which I think is something that's hard to muster sometimes."

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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