Is Shaun Murphy from ‘The Good Doctor’ Based On a Real Person?
ABC’s The Good Doctor is the network’s newest medical drama — and possibly a more popular one than even its creator envisioned. Adapted from a Korean medical drama of a very similar name, the show follows a character with autism as he navigates the already challenging world of professional medicine.
Read on to learn more about the show The Good Doctor is based on, how realistic the show is, and whether or not someone with autism could actually become a real doctor.
Meet the person who brought The Good Doctor to television
The South Korean medical drama Good Doctor had a 20-episode run and was considered highly successful in the regions it aired. But House creator David Shore believed it could make a successful run in the United States, and adapted the pilot script for a Western audience.
About the show, he said: “We’ve been hearing from people with other disabilities, not just autism. They are people who feel marginalized and identify with Shaun. We had to be careful that the show isn’t preachy, presenting him as some kind of autistic superhero. The show is most interesting not when Shaun learns something but when we learn something from Shaun.”
The show itself may not be based on a real person. But is it based on reality? Does it handle autism both gracefully and accurately? Could someone like Shaun really be a good doctor?
Does The Good Doctor get autism right?
Some medical experts aren’t happy with the show’s portrayal of autism — labeling it as a sort of syndrome prevalent in Hollywood. One physician calls it a ‘white male genius problem,’ writing: “By transcending the awkward white male genius trope, Hollywood can begin to more accurately represent all autistic people, showing that’s there’s more than one end to the autism spectrum.”
Possibly the biggest problem with having one character on a show portray a medical condition is that no two people living with autism are alike. There’s a reason health professionals call it a spectrum. There’s no way to accurately display every symptom or behavior through one person.
The show did air one episode in which Shaun interacts with a patient who also has autism, and whose challenges and behaviors look very different from his. It’s not that writers, producers, and consultants on these shows aren’t aware of these differences. They just can’t always reflect everyone’s experiences in one story.
The other issue is that autism isn’t the only diagnosis that makes Shaun unique. He also has savant syndrome, giving him genius-level abilities despite the challenges he faces due to being on the spectrum. This is admittedly a rare condition, but as with most medical dramas, the “drama” often has to overpower reality. It’s not medically inaccurate. It’s just far less likely to happen in real life than it might seem.
Has there ever been a real doctor with autism?
There isn’t specific data on exactly how many individuals with autism might be working in the medical field. But it’s not impossible for someone on the spectrum to practice medicine.
Doctors have very specific responsibilities within their field. They have to be able to not only understand the literature and make quick, real-time decisions based on that knowledge, but also to communicate with patients and fellow medical staff and maintain professionalism in the workplace.
There are plenty of people on the spectrum who can function in these settings despite the many challenges they might face while doing so. Maybe the reason The Good Doctor has become such a success — even among some people on the spectrum — is that it offers hope to those pursuing career paths that might seem unrealistic based on their diagnoses.
As long as a person can perform necessary tasks and are otherwise qualified for a position in a hospital or other health care setting, there’s no reason they couldn’t do it because of autism. It all depends on the individual, their specific challenges, and their skill level — just like any other person who wants to practice medicine.
The Good Doctor returns to ABC on January 14.