Health & Medicine

The Anatomy of a Career Change

Olivia Rater MD’22 is a doctor who did not play one on TV — but she did work for Grey’s Anatomy.

Olivia Rater smiling and wearing a white doctor's coat

Rater: “It’s crazy going from a TV show where wild things happen to living in my own version of that during my intern year.” Eddie Marak

Olivia Rater MD’22 has had “quite a few Grey’s Anatomy moments” during her residency at UT Southwestern in Dallas. And she would know. Between earning her literature degree at Yale and attending UW–Madison for medical school, Rater worked for a season as a production assistant on the long-running ABC doctor drama.

“It’s crazy going from a TV show where wild things happen to living in my own version of that during my intern year,’’ she says. “I tend to attract chaos.”

One of her most memorable real-world cases was a patient with end-stage monkeypox, a situation so rare that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was on the phone regularly wanting updates.

“It was a sad and difficult case, because the patient was alone, undocumented, and Spanish-speaking,’’ says Rater, who is bilingual. She said the case was ultimately “very validating” because an infectious disease expert, after questioning why a psychiatry resident was in charge, ultimately complimented her care. (Psychiatry residents typically do several medical rotations.)

In another Grey’s moment, Rater was on call in the trauma unit in the University Hospital emergency room while nine months pregnant at the height of the COVID surge. “It was a scary time,” she says.

Rater has both Madison and medicine in her DNA. She was born in Madison while her parents, Michael Rater MD’93 and Lillian Rater ’94, were students. She remembers living at Eagle Heights and playing in the woods at Picnic Point. She grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her dad practices psychiatry and her mom works at a bilingual school.

She was a mental health tech at McLean Hospital during college and briefly took premed classes at Yale before deciding that writing and literature were her calling. After graduation, she landed a writer’s assistant job at Grey’s Anatomy, where her aunt Joan Rater x’84 and uncle Tony Phelan were showrunners.

But she quickly learned that Hollywood was not for her.

“Some people like that kind of work,’’ she says, “but I felt estranged in the disconnected bubble of Hollywood. I missed hearing people’s stories and working with them one-on-one.”

After starting medical school, Rater had a difficult pregnancy with her oldest child and took a leave. When she restarted, in fall 2018, she was one of six young mothers in her class.

“My daughter was colicky and did not sleep during the first two years of her life, which was great preparation for residency,” she says.

Published in the Fall 2023 issue


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