Highlighting Stories: Grey's Anatomy Actress & AAPI Advocate

Hi Bokhee! I’ve been a Grey’s Anatomy fan since Season 1, so it’s really awesome to be able to get to learn more about your background. To kick us off, let’s give readers insight into who you are, where you come from, and what you currently do?

Thank you very much. It’s great to meet you and thank you for being a fan of the show. My name is Bokhee An and I am from South Korea and came to the United States in 1968. I started working at a hospital in Woodland, CA, and would do the night shift on the patient floor. I was in my late 20s at the time and alone in the US; I didn’t know English very well, so I was kept on the night shift while I continued to learn English. 

I first entered an Operating Room in 1969 as a Scrub Tech. At first, I only worked on minor cases like hernias or biopsies, but six months later I was doing major cases––open heart cardiothoracic and neurosurgery cases. I ended up being a scrub tech for over 45 years and loved every minute of it. I retired seven years ago from the Operating Room but continued to do mission trips where I helped provide medical care around the world. Currently, I spend most of my time with family and working on Grey’s Anatomy. 

Tell us about the moment you learned you would be joining the cast of Grey’s Anatomy and how your life changed after being cast.

I have worked with Linda Klein, one of the Co-Executive Producers of Grey’s Anatomy, since 1976. She was actually one of the nurses I worked with in the hospital when she was beginning her career. She got into film and television and would ask me to come help and I would help set up the Operating Room. 

When we did the pilot of Grey’s Anatomy I had no idea that it would be this big of a success. I wasn’t really ‘cast’ in the beginning, I was just a background actor who tried to help the actors in the Operating Room. Over the years, people started recognizing me and I started gaining a following. The writers then started giving me lines and I have been so happy to be a part of this amazing show! It is very weird for me to go to the grocery store and people recognize me. I always laugh when I see how many people follow me on Instagram because I don’t think I am that interesting of a person, but I love them all so much!

As a former bedside nurse myself, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, especially seeing as you are one of the most well-known nurses on the show; not only that, but you are an advocate in the AAPI community. As a role model/icon for so many people in various ways, what keeps you going in your career and in your giveback efforts?

After retiring, it can get a little lonely at home, so continuing to go to the set is one of my favorite things to do. I love people and being around them. As for my giveback efforts, I’ve experienced a lot of prejudice throughout my career, being a small Asian woman with a thick accent who didn’t know best English. I’ve had so many people assume that I didn’t know what I was talking about simply because of how I look or speak. I think it’s very important to support the AAPI community and advocate against the racism that exists. I have seen so many attacks against the AAPI community, and to be honest, I don’t leave my house as much because I sometimes am afraid to be in larger crowds or out later at night because I do not want to be a victim. 

Changing gears a little–I’m told you used to wear different shoes for a long time before switching to Gales. Why did you love your previous shoes and what made you change your mind to switch to Gales?

I have always worn tennis shoes most of my life and in the operating room [...]. I tried on Gales after being gifted a pair, and after wearing them I found them to be super comfortable! I could stand for a long time (which normally hurts my feet) and feel so much support because they are so light––they can also be cleaned easily! I even walked around Korea with them; I used them everywhere I went. 

Any final words of advice, anecdotes, or perspectives that you would like to share with our readers?

I talk to a lot of young people who struggle just starting their careers. I always encourage them and share my story about how I started because it only gets better. You need to follow your passion and be dedicated. There are times when things get tough, but in those moments, take a deep breath, take a step back, and remember why you entered the profession you love.