Grey’s Anatomy is continuing to blaze trails on television even after 16 seasons.
In the upcoming episode titled “Save the Last Dance for Me” the longrunning series will introduce yet another new character, Dr. Lauren Riley. Riley will be the first recurring deaf doctor on a network primetime series, once again making history for Grey’s Anatomy.
Deaf actress Shoshannah Stern has been cast as Riley, and told Variety it has been a dream of hers to be on the show.
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“It was always just me walking around in scrubs with the other doctors like I was one of them,” said Stern, 39. “I remember always having trouble adjusting when I woke up from these dreams, because they always felt so vividly real.”
Grey’s showrunner Krista Vernoff said she had no idea that Stern’s character would be making history on television as the first deaf doctor.
Stern said she spoke to doctors who are deaf while developing Dr. Riley and added that the Grey’s team also reached out “to ensure what they were writing about was accurate.”
“I’ve always been fascinated with all the deaf doctors out there in the wild,” Stern added. “They’re all very different, but a commonality they share is that they seem to bring a special touch to their job. Some have actually invented medical technology to allow them more access, some of which you’re going to see in Riley’s episodes.”
“For Riley, I really wanted her to sign,” Stern explained. “She deals with people’s bodies, and you use your entire body to sign, so I just thought it would carry a special kind of weight. My deaf cousin [who is also named Lauren] is a nurse that uses an interpreter at work, and my husband does a lot of video relay interpreting in the medical field, so the inspiration for me for how Riley would communicate was cross-bred between my cousin and my husband.”
The actress added, “It was most important to me that Riley was the best at what she did because, not in spite, of the fact that she’s deaf. It was also important that being deaf isn’t something that defines Riley, it just adds a unique layer to her.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.