Why Is ‘The Good Doctor’ Shaun Murphy So Smart?

The Good Doctor is one of ABC network’s most successful new dramas. The show is currently in its second season, and each week, it seems to do better and better in the ratings. That’s thanks to the show’s intriguing main character, Shaun Murphy. Murphy is a surgical resident who is clearly a little different from the other doctors. He has an incredible ability to diagnose people that those he works with lack. But why is Murphy so intelligent?

The Good Doctor
Freddie Highmore plays Shaun Murphy on ‘The Good Doctor.’ | David Bukach/Getty Images

On the show, Murphy is on the autism spectrum

Murphy is a surgical resident on the show, and he is on the autism spectrum. There are many different levels to the spectrum; Murphy can communicate with the other doctors but often has trouble conveying emotion. He also takes words at their face value; he doesn’t pick up well on sarcasm. He answers questions honestly when they’re asked, even if it means potentially worrying a patient. The doctors Murphy works with have adjusted to his different social skills, but in the most recent episodes, the new chief of surgery has not. Murphy was recently placed in the pathology section of the hospital because the chief is worried about how he communicates with patients.

Each episode, it seems that Murphy has an uncanny ability to diagnose patients

Although Murphy does have difficulty having a regular conversation, he has no shortage of mental capacity. Nearly every episode, Murphy comes up with some form of break-through solution or diagnosis that nobody on his team would have thought of themselves. He remembers things he read in the past that most doctors don’t pay attention to since they’re typically very rare. For example, in the episode that aired on February 25, doctors thought one patient had a brain tumor. Murphy had remembered reading about a very rare phenomenon in which a worm from a certain type of fish sometimes burrows itself in the brain and is disguised as a brain tumor. On a whim, Murphy suggested the idea and ended up being right.

Murphy has savant syndrome, which essentially makes him a medical genius

Murphy may be autistic, but that alone isn’t what makes him so intelligent. Murphy also has savant syndrome. The syndrome is extremely rare; when someone is an autistic savant, he or she typically has a set of skills that are far greater than those of the average human. In Murphy’s case, he has the ability to retain medical information like no other; he can read something one time and it will stick with him forever, which explains how he constantly understands mysterious health problems that other doctors can’t figure out. But it doesn’t mean he’s a genius in every area; he simply excels far beyond his co-workers in the medical field.

Not everyone with savant syndrome is necessarily intelligent, but they typically have some kind of incredible talent

While Murphy may be a medical genius, not every savant is created equal. Savants can have incredible abilities in art, school, and other areas. Some may be able to play the piano at an uncanny level. Others may be painting like Picasso before they start elementary school. Each savant is different; in Murphy’s case, his savant syndrome has helped him become one of the most essential parts of San Jose St. Bonaventure’s surgical team.

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