Ellen Pompeo Says the Fans Will Determine When 'Grey's Anatomy' Will End (Exclusive)

The 48-year-old actress gets candid about what it'll take for her and Shonda Rhimes to decide when to end the beloved medical drama.

Ellen Pompeo isn't setting an end date for Grey's Anatomy just yet.

The longtime star of ABC's popular medical drama made headlines when she intimated that she may be ready to hang up her scrubs following the end of the 16th season, which would also mark the end of her two-year contract extension. Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes has said that she and Pompeo will mutually decide on when to end Grey's, and the 48-year-old actress reiterated that fact.

"It's something Shonda and I will decide together," Pompeo told ET's Denny Directo at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Los Angeles on Saturday. "I've been doing it a long time and I do get restless, but the fans are just still so passionate about the show."

Pompeo credited the Grey's fans for keeping the show going for 15 seasons strong and reinvigorating her love for her character, Meredith Grey, whom she's played since 2005, in addition to the impact their real-life stories have had on her personally.

"When you meet people [who] are going through things in their life and they say the show brings them solace and the show brings them comfort, whether they have cancer, whether they are an abuse victim, whether they're in a marginalized community -- even though it is a silly soap opera -- to know that you're really touching people and making people feel better, even if it's just because they're crying, it's meaningful," she said. "As an actor, what we want to do is to tell stories and have those stories reach people."

"We are really, really touching people's lives. I see the effects of it everyday. I hear the stories. We really make a difference in people's lives," Pompeo added. "As an artist, to be able to touch people in a meaningful way, I don't take it for granted, that's for sure. I appreciate it."

Pompeo joked that she's been saying that Grey's will end for years now, but it continues to find interesting stories to tell and new roads to travel. "I've been saying, for the record, that the show is going to end since season two," she said with a chuckle. 

What will it take for Pompeo and Rhimes to decide to end Grey's for good? According to Pompeo, it'll be an easy tell.

"I think the fans will let us know," she said. "When the numbers start to drop and people aren't watching the same, people aren't as passionate about it... it's time to call it." 

Grey's still remains one of the top broadcast programs on Thursday nights in its 15th season, averaging just under 7 million viewers and a 1.8 rating among the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic in same-day ratings.

So for now, it appears Pompeo has no plans to leave Grey Sloan just yet. Asked if she's down to stay with Grey's, she confirmed as much. "Yeah," she said definitively, before adding, "For right now. Let's take it one season at a time."

Recently, former Grey's star Patrick Dempsey praised Pompeo -- after she called him "a tough act to follow" -- and the Grey's cast for reaching the 15-season landmark in an exclusive sit-down with ET. "That was a very special bond that just -- there was a magic to our connection and that's special," Dempsey said of the beloved Meredith-McDreamy romance. 

"I think it started with the original cast and the length that it has and the new people that have come in, and it's amazing and it's continuing to affect so many people and to really be a strong part of so many people's lives," he added. "You're a part of television history. It's really remarkable." 

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.