'Chicago Med' Season Finale: [SPOILER] Departs in a 'Full-Circle' and 'Beautiful Moment' (Exclusive)

A beloved original cast member tells PEOPLE about his decision to leave after eight seasons — and shares a special message for fans

CHICAGO MED -- "Does One Door Close and Another One Open?" Episode 822 -- Pictured: (l-r) Marlyne Barrett as Maggie Lockwood, Nick Gehlfuss as Will Halstead -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

George Burns Jr/NBC

This post contains spoilers from Wednesday's season 8 finale of Chicago Med.

Another doctor has left the E.D.

On Wednesday night's season 8 finale of Chicago Med, Dr. Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss) decided he'd had enough, and, at the same time, may have wound up with everything he'd ever wanted.

After interfering with the OR 2.0 to sabotage Dayton Corporation's IPO presentation — and protect patients by proving its life-threatening flaws — Halstead decided to own his choices and handed his letter of resignation to Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson). Goodwin responded that she was forced to accept it and warned that she would not be able to provide future recommendations given the circumstances. But she wasn't happy about it.

"What are we going to do?" she mused, calling him "a constant source of irritation and a constant source of inspiration."

Following a tearful farewell with the staff, Halstead headed to Seattle and reunited with his former love, Dr. Natalie Manning (Torrey DeVitto, who left the show in the season 7 premiere), and her son Owen.

Just one day before audiences would learn Halstead's fate, PEOPLE caught up with Gehlfuss, 38, about career-making turn on the show and his departure. But first, since he isn't active on social media, he wished to address the show's passionate fans directly here:

"It is no secret that without you, we would not have jobs," he says. "One of the most important things we can give to one another is our time, so thank you all for your time and your support. I've been so flattered and moved by the amount of people that have come up to me to say something positive about One Chicago and my work regarding Dr. Halstead. That is the best confirmation of the contract between audience and storyteller. So while Will Halstead is leaving, One Chicago is not. Enjoy the seasons to come."

Does One Door Close and Another One Open?" Episode 822 -- Pictured: (l-r) Marlyne Barrett as Maggie Lockwood, Nick Gehlfuss as Will Halstead -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

George Burns Jr/NBC

PEOPLE: It's mere hours before fans will see Halstead's departure. How are you feeling about it?

NICK GEHLFUSS: I'm feeling a lot of things right now. I don't even know where to start, but overall good. I'm very much thinking about the fans. But I don't think they'll be ready, and I do think the writers have done a fantastic job with misdirecting Will's exit with Maggie's interviews.

What went into the decision to move on from Chicago Med?

It was a difficult decision, but I felt I had taken Dr. Halstead as far as I could go with him. I really value my time on the show and I'm so grateful for it. I've learned a hell of a lot and it's changed my life for the better. The hardest part is leaving the vast talented group of good people. I'm so proud of the work we accomplished.

[Saying goodbye] is not a comfortable thing to do, but it's part of growing, which is what I really want to do as an actor. I want to continue challenging myself — not that Chicago Med was not a challenge. I learned so much. You want to continue building your career, and an actor is definitely attracted by the variety and the versatility of the profession.

What do you remember most from when you first got this part?

In November of 2018, I received a phone call for this job, and if you would've told me I would've filmed over 200 episodes of television, I would have not believed you. Until that point, I had done six episodes at most for one gig. The finale is my 163rd Med episode, and I have done 21 Chicago Fires and 18 P.D. for a total of 202 One Chicago episodes. 

Dick [Wolf] took a chance on me, and at the beginning, I was not a serious regular. And really, it's a prime example of making sure an actor knocks every audition out of the park because I had an audition for Chicago P.D. and they said they loved my audition and would love to have given me the role, but I looked too much like someone else on the show. So when Chicago Med was starting off and they wanted to create this brother role to Jay Halstead, Jonathan Strauss, the casting director, reminded them, "Hey, remember when you said this guy looked too much like this guy? Well, now you want someone that looks like this guy. So what about this guy?" It's a great example for every actor who doesn't already understand this, that every audition counts, even if you don't get the role. It's not necessarily about getting the role every time.

CHICAGO MED -- "Does One Door Close and Another One Open?" Episode 822 -- Pictured: (l-r) Marlyne Barrett as Maggie Lockwood, Nick Gehlfuss as Will Halstead -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

George Burns Jr/NBC

Had you ever considered living in Chicago before this?

Chicago wasn't even on my radar and now it's my home.

What is something that Will Halstead taught you that you've applied to your life?

Well, he may have not fully understood this lesson because he sometimes let his personal life or personal wishes for patients get in the way, but you never want to let your personal stuff interfere with your work.

What was your reaction when you first read how Will's departure was written in?

I thought they balanced it very well. Will was making a choice beyond just love for the hospital. He was losing faith in the hospital because it had gone for-profit. That really goes against everything Will stands for, especially as it pertains to his protection over his patients. But at the same time, I think Will was always seeking elements of Natalie in every relationship that followed their breakup because he never got over her. So the relationship for Will and Natalie comes full circle and it was a beautiful moment with Natalie. And it's not just Dr. Manning that shows up, it's Owen. I really always admired that about Will's character, that he was willing and open to being a stepfather. So there's this family at the end, not just a couple, that's really reunited.

CHICAGO MED -- "Does One Door Close and Another One Open?" Episode 822 -- Pictured: (l-r) Marlyne Barrett as Maggie Lockwood, Nick Gehlfuss as Will Halstead -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

George Burns Jr/NBC

How was working with Torrey DeVitto again?

It was so great to see her, and we fell right back into our work rhythm as if we didn't have any time off. It was really just a terrific moment and one that I hope brings some closure to fans. I think the writers did a fantastic job with that.

Were there a lot of tears on your last day?

Of course. My wife visited for the last day to see the final scene, and when she arrived, I think it was an AD who said, "Have you seen Nick?" She said, "No." And this person said, "He's been crying all morning. He's a wreck." And it was true. These are eight-year relationships that I have with the crew that — we don't use the word lightly, and that's the only word for it — is family.

Anything else you're really going to miss?

It's been a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget. I mean, we are a success story that will go down in history in television. I will never forget the amount of mental health stories we've been telling and that Chicago Med will continue to tell. It's just so important. Sometimes entertainment is the one that brings about cultural shifts, and I think we've been erasing stigma around it for the past eight years. And there's no one better to be at the head of that than Oliver Platt because I know how much he cares about it all and wants to get it right. So yeah, Dick not only did he put all these shows together, but he also brought a psychiatrist into a medical drama and felt that audiences were ready to start hearing about these types of stories.

What's next for you?

Well, nothing is on the table quite yet, officially. Of course, the writer's strike is happening and I stand in solidarity with the WGA and I support their fight for a fair wage, but ultimately I want to develop new and different characters. It was a gift to be able to explore one character for eight years. TV allows that possibility. So I look forward to doing so again.

A lot of One Chicago-ers who have left come back, whether to direct or otherwise. Is that something you would consider?

Yes, actually Dick, the producers and I agreed to end the storyline to preserve the ability to bring Halstead back if the opportunity presents itself.

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Chicago Med will return to NBC for season 9 in the fall.

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