- "I have autism, it's part of who I am."
- —Dr. Shaun Murphy[src]
Dr. Shaun Murphy is the main protagonist of The Good Doctor. As a resident at St. Bonaventure, he must learn the ropes of hospital work, while facing unique challenges and embracing his strengths due to his diagnoses of autism and savant syndrome.
As a young child, Shaun was raised alongside his younger brother Steve by their mother and father. He was bullied by other children in school and teased for being autistic.
Little is known about Shaun's mother (though he mentions she made good pancakes). His father's method of child-rearing eventually turned abusive, ultimately resulting in him killing Shaun's rabbit when he was fourteen. Shaun and his brother ran to the nearest "doctor place" (as Steve called it), where they met Aaron Glassman for the first time. It was during this time that Steve promised Shaun they would never go back to their parents. He also gave Shaun a small toy scalpel, which would be treasured for years to come. Shaun was 14 when these events occurred.
The two ran away together and lived in an abandoned school bus together, until Steve's accidental death while playing in an old building with a group of other children. Shaun was picked up by a police officer, who tried to take him back to his parents; at this point, he fell apart in the back of the squad car, screaming and crying about Steve's promise to him. Ultimately, Glassman took Shaun in, and raised him like a son. At one point, Shaun lived with a distant foster mother who was fond of saying "tough titmouse" in response to a situation. After his foster mother got diagnosed with a terminal illness, she sent Shaun away again. It was shown that despite her distant attitude towards Shaun, she truly cared about him and was devastated to have to send Shaun away.
He lived independently in Casper, Wyoming for some time (though both Glassman and Shaun note that his neighbors provided much-needed help). With Glassman, he managed to develop his skills to be a doctor and to later control his emotions and remain calm in tough situations. Later, he moved to San Jose to begin his residency at St. Bonaventure.
In season 2, Shaun is forced to deal with the unexpected return of Lea. Shaun's hurt from Lea leaving causing him to act like a jerk towards his best friend at a time when Lea needs his support after a bad experience in Hershey. The two ultimately reconcile and move in together. Though they experience some problems adjusting to being roommates, the two are able to find solutions and maintain a supportive platonic relationship.
At the same time, Shaun has to deal with Glassman's cancer diagnosis and the various problems that come with it, particularly Glassman's increasing memory loss. Shaun is left torn between being a supportive friend and what the rules say he must do, leading Shaun to take away Glassman's license. However, after learning just how badly this action hurt Glassman, Shaun learns how to drive with Lea's help so that he can drive Glassman around instead. Though Shaun initially experiences problems with driving, Lea is able to help translate driving into medical terms and Shaun succeeds in learning the skill.
In "Quarantine," a viral outbreak in the ER at Christmas time traps Shaun along with Morgan and Lim. Constantly distracted by a buzzing light even before the quarantine, Shaun goes into sensory overload and suffers from an autistic meltdown after Park's son Kellan suffers an asthma attack and collapses. In "Quarantine: Part Two," Morgan revives Shaun by getting him to focus on Santa Pete's abdominal surgery; with Doctor Lim incapacitated by the virus, Shaun and Morgan complete the surgery by themselves and save the patient. Shaun remains distracted by the buzzing light, wearing ear plugs until Park smashes the light, ending Shaun's sensory overload issues. Shaun is then forced to treat pregnant mother-to-be Viola who suffers complications requiring a C-section. With no other doctors available, Shaun is forced to perform the C-section himself as his first solo surgery with Dr. Garcia supervising from outside the ER and only Nurse Deena Petringa assisting him. Though Shaun goes into sensory overload again, he fights through it and delivers the baby. When both mother and baby suffer complications, Shaun treats them both at the same time with the help of Kellan. Shaun succeeds in saving both of his patients and later shares a rare hug with Glassman after learning of Glassman's meningitis diagnosis.
In "Aftermath," Shaun and Glassman spend a day with Lea at her job, though Shaun remains concerned about Glassman who decides to leave the hospital early after his meningitis surgery. At the end of the day, Glassman tells Shaun that he intends to speed up his cancer treatment and recognizes that Shaun still has feelings for Lea, telling Shaun that he deserves to be happy. When Shaun returns home, he is surprised and upset to discover that Lea now has a boyfriend. At the same time, Shaun, Lim and Melendez are recommended for license suspension to the medical review board by an investigator for the governor for their actions during the quarantine.
In "Risk and Reward," Shaun admitting to the mother of a child with severe birth defects that her actions may have caused the defects gets Shaun into serious trouble with the new Chief of Surgery, Doctor Jackson Han despite his friends arguing his case. Though the baby appears to be beyond saving, Shaun has a literal last minute inspiration that allows the team to successfully complete the surgery. Shaun's diagnostic skills impress Han who decides to transfer Shaun to pathology against his wishes so that Shaun can continue to save lives, but will not have to interact with the patients.
In "Believe," Shaun struggles to adapt to working in pathology while his friends attempt to get Han to relent and for Shaun to stand up for himself to Han. As Lim, Park and Claire treat Sadie, a patient with an apparently inoperable and aggressive tumor, Shaun suspects Sadie has been misdiagnosed and goes against Han's rules to investigate, landing him into trouble. However, Shaun's diagnosis is proven to be correct, saving Sadie's life and Han publicly credits Shaun as the pathologist who made the discovery. Though Shaun stands up for himself to Han, he refuses to reinstate him as a surgical resident, using Shaun's unique ability to correctly diagnose Sadie as proof that he belongs in pathology.
In "Breakdown," Han's intervention ends Shaun, Lim and Melendez's troubles with the medical review board, but he continues to refuse to transfer Shaun back to surgery. Shaun's frustration reaches a peak when his intervention saves a patient with a 200-pound tumor, but Han continues to refuse to give him his job back. Shaun suffers an emotional breakdown and forcefully demands his job from Han in a way that leads to Han firing Shaun. Shaun's breakdown causes him to break the toy scalpel Steve gave him as a child as Claire watches, helpless to help her friend.
In "Trampoline," Shaun visits a bar instead of attending a job interview, leading him to get into an altercation with Zack Cordell who suddenly collapses after kicking Shaun in the stomach. After escorting Zack to the hospital, Shaun evades questions about how he found Zack, though Claire quickly figures out the truth on her own. Shaun takes flirting advice from Claire and secretly seeks treatment for his injuries with the help of Doctor Carly Lever, his old boss from pathology. While visiting Zack, Shaun realizes that he has been misdiagnosed and apparently utters "trampoline" before collapsing from his injuries which leaves Shaun on a ventilator for a brief period. While Shaun is unconscious, Claire replicates the conditions behind Shaun's thought processes with Zack and manages to figure out what Shaun had been trying to tell him, saving Zack's life. When Shaun regains consciousness with Lea and Glassman at his side, Claire reassures him that Zack will be fine thanks to Shaun.
As Shaun recovers, he is visited by Andrews who learned of Shaun's failure to show up to his interview and tries to get Shaun to face reality and move on. Shaun tells Andrews that Steve had always told him that being told to face reality is just a person's way of getting you to do something you don't want to do. At a board meeting, Glassman uses Shaun's ability to inspire Claire to look through his eyes and save a life as proof that Shaun does communicate, even if it is not in the way others do. Inspired by Shaun's words, Andrews chooses to fire Han in order to be able to rehire Shaun who gets his job back despite the fact that it may have destroyed Andrews' career at the hospital. That night, Shaun visits Carly and successfully asks her out, forgetting to leave his chocolate and flowers with Carly in his excitement.
In "Disaster," Shaun helps Melendez treat a newlywed bride who they initially believe has a minor issue. However, during surgery to fix it, Shaun discovers that the bride has extensive cancer. Melendez assigns Shaun the task of bringing the bride the bad news, but he delays to study medical journals in search of a solution and offers Claire advice on her relationship with her mother. After discovering Shaun's delay, a fed-up Melendez drags him into the patient's room and forces Shaun to give her the bad news. However, Shaun suggests a radical surgery that carries many risks with the alternative being the bride's almost certain death from cancer. When the bride and her husband hesitate to make a decision, Shaun's blunt honesty causes them to confront their fears and accept the surgery. Shaun's idea works and the bride's cancer is removed, but complications from the surgery mean that she will need an ileostomy bag for the rest of her life. The husband promises to support his wife despite the difficulties they will face together. Shaun also visits Glassman, now working at a clinic and tries to convince him that he should be working on patients with exciting symptoms rather than boring ones. While at the clinic, Shaun diagnoses Glassman's patient, Marco Higgins, with an infection in his foot that is masked by Marco's diabetes.
During the episode, Shaun goes on an eventful first date with Carly Lever which includes him catching a bottle of wine that he accidentally sent flying into the air, making a bad joke that causes Carly to chuckle and hitting a very understanding woman with a door while trying to be chivalrous. At the end of the night, Carly tells Shaun that she had a good time and pecks him on the lips goodnight. Shaun becomes convinced the date was a disaster and tells the story to his confused friends over the course of the episode. Shaun eventually explains that he was overwhelmed by the unpredictability of it all and thus didn't have a good time and isn't sure if Carly did either. Claire later tells Shaun that every date is a disaster and every relationship is out of control, but if you stick with it, you'll end up with someone who will help you when you need to be helped, love you when you don't feel lovable and be with you no matter what. Despite seeing two couples who share such a relationship despite the trials they are facing, Shaun is left with uncertainty about whether or not his relationship is worth pursuing. Shaun later watches Carly in the pathology lab from a distance before leaving without saying a word to her. A saddened Carly notices Shaun's departure which Shaun misses as he turns his back before she notices him.
In "Debts," Shaun works with Andrews and Claire on the case of a Good Samaritan who had half of his face destroyed after saving a total stranger from a groping on the subway. The damage appears to be too severe to repair, requiring the team to wire the man's mouth shut for the rest of his life. However, after Shaun reminds Andrews of his own selfless act, Andrews becomes determined to save the man's face and speech even if they have to invent a new procedure to do it. Shaun becomes obsessed with finding an answer, even after going home. After figuring out how to perform the surgery, Shaun rushes to Andrews' home to bring him the news and together the two present the surgery to Lim. Due to her concerns about Andrews' motivations, Lim sends Shaun out of the room while she talks to Andrews privately, but he ultimately presents the patient with surgery and he accepts it despite the tremendous risks and the completely experimental nature of the procedure. Despite a complication, Shaun, Andrews and Claire are successfully able to complete the procedure and save the patient's face. Afterwards, Andrews privately approaches Shaun and admits that he had been driven by his own doubts and anger over the repercussions of Andrews' choice to save Shaun at the cost of his own career. However, Shaun's actions that day made Andrews proud of his sacrifice which he thanks Shaun for and tells him that "very few things that are worthwhile in life come without a cost Shaun."
At the same time, Shaun continues to struggle with his relationship with Carly to the point that he doesn't even complain when Lea blasts her music too loud. Lea, Glassman and Debbie Wexler all try to give Shaun advice with Debbie telling Glassman to push Shaun on the matter and not to coddle him leading Glassman to explain to Shaun his own love for Debbie and what makes it worth it to Glassman. While visiting the pathology lab, Shaun admits to Carly he had a horrible time and hated the date, causing Carly to visit him at home to talk. Going on a walk with Shaun, Carly explains that she understands him so well because her little sister is autistic as well and she has her own questions about their relationship, but she wants to spend time with him so they can figure it out together. Shaun ultimately runs off in the middle of the conversation after coming up with the solution to his case, but is intrigued by Claire's claim that the walk was a second more relaxed date. After his shift, Shaun visits Carly in the pathology lab and they sit down together with a bag of chips with Shaun having been inspired by Claire's description of a more relaxed informal date she enjoys.
In "Claire," Shaun works with Claire to treat Michelle Benton, a teenager who requires a gallbladder removal which excites Shaun as it will likely be Claire's first surgery. Though Melendez expresses doubt about Claire's ability to perform the procedure when it appears to be more complicated than previously thought, Shaun offers a solution that gets Melendez to agree to Claire performing the surgery. During the procedure itself, Claire enlists Shaun as the assisting doctor while Melendez supervises. Together, the two successfully remove the gallbladder and deal with a hemorrhage that develops.
At the same time, Shaun reveals to Claire that he and Carly went on another date involving a walk and a visit to a deli. During the date, Shaun asked Carly 83 questions, many of which were quite invasive for so early in a relationship. Claire's questions cause Shaun to realize that they didn't kiss at the end of the date, nor did they plan their next date. Claire promises to talk to Carly, but begins obsessively studying in case of possible complications, leading to Shaun nervously visiting her multiple times seeking Claire's help in getting answers. Claire eventually speaks to Carly who admits that she enjoyed Shaun asking so many questions as Carly hates small talk. After realizing that Claire was responsible for Shaun's doubts, Carly bluntly tells her to butt out of their relationship. Claire later spots Shaun and Carly sitting down with a bag of chips and going over more questions, drawing a smile from Claire.
Shaun has "almost perfect recall," extraordinary and genius-level intellect, and the excellent analytical abilities that allow him to make highly accurate diagnoses. He dislikes direct questions and confrontation. He is highly perceptive and often bluntly voices these perceptions, such as noting that his superior, Dr. Neil Melendez, was "arrogant" on the first day that they met. Notably, Shaun was the only person in the entire hospital to suspect that Dr. Marcus Andrews would choose to remain Chief of Surgery instead of choosing a new one, resulting in Shaun winning the betting pool everyone created on the decision. During hospital scenes, Shaun's thought process is frequently captured in an overlay for viewers, demonstrating his eidetic memory. This shows that he is a highly visual learner. Over time, Shaun's unique visualizing process becomes evident to those around him to the point that they realize what he is doing simply by looking at him. After hearing a patient describe what Shaun looked like in "Trampoline" before he collapsed, Claire immediately realized what had happened without having been witness to it for herself. Shaun's unique diagnostic skills are noted by many characters, including Dr. Jackson Han who displays prejudice against Shaun for his autism.
His autism is depicted as obvious to many of the people he interacts with. He displays several traits of his condition, including heightened sensory sensitivity, abnormal inflection when speaking, lack of interest in eye contact, and heavy reliance on routine. Additionally, he becomes fixated on certain objects at times, most notably the toy scalpel that Steve gave to him. He insists on eating the same thing for breakfast every day: yogurt and a green apple except for Mondays when he has breakfast with Dr. Glassman at the hospital. He loves to eat chocolate chip pancakes with a glass of milk. Shaun is revealed to have never met another autistic person before encountering a patient with it at the hospital. Shaun was clearly uncomfortable treating the young man, but his unique insight into the young man's condition allowed him to recognize that he was autistic and not psychotic as was originally believed, help calm him through most of an MRI and figure out what was wrong with the patient. Shaun also suffered discrimination from the parents due to his own autism, but with the help of Melendez and the patient, Shaun was allowed to perform the surgery and proved the parents wrong when he saved the young man's life during a dangerous part of the operation. Shaun pointedly rebuked the parents afterwards as they had caused their son to get sick and they subsequently began listening to their son rather than unilaterally making decisions for him. In "Quarantine," a buzzing light and the stressful situation caused Shaun to go into sensory overload and collapse into the fetal position; Morgan was able to get him through it by getting him focused on a surgery and Park fixed it completely by smashing the light. When Shaun went into sensory overload again during a C-section, his first solo surgery, he was able to fight through it and come up with a solution to the problem.
Despite Shaun's troubled childhood, he maintains a generally positive outlook on life, choosing to pursue medicine in the hopes of improving the lives of others. However, he is wary of forming deeper relationships with people after the death of his younger brother and his rabbit. Shaun is revealed to have a great degree of proficiency, if not fluency, in Spanish. He also mentions an interest in football in at least one episode. Among the things Shaun dislikes are pickles, coffee, Chinese food, Tequila and direct questions. He has an aversion to physical touch unless he is the one to initiate it. He is shown as being fond of cats.
As a result of his autism, Shaun has trouble with cognitive empathy, but is fine with emotional empathy, meaning he can pick up when someone is upset but often has trouble discerning why, this is something that he himself notes. As a result, he may make a decision that is rational and by the rules, but morally wrong or otherwise harmful such as taking away Dr. Glassman's license due to the rules dictating it while not understanding why Glassman was angry with him, Shaun was able to see that Glassman was upset, but not able to understand why he was upset. This is something Shaun is shown working on such as learning how to drive to make up for taking away Glassman's ability to drive himself places by driving Glassman instead. Another example is how he treated Lea after her return due to being hurt over her leaving in the first place which made Shaun rude and mean to his friend. At one point, Shaun advocated against giving a patient surgery to fix a dent in his forehead as the surgery was cosmetic and unnecessary. After hearing the young man's story, Shaun actually empathized with the patient and came up with a simple and ingenious solution that fixed the problem while also saving costs. Shaun came to feel he made the wrong decision as the patient suffered a complication that almost killed him, but Park revealed that Shaun's actions actually saved the young man's life as he had been planning suicide beforehand. In "Risk and Reward," Shaun's trouble with empathy and communication led to him telling a mother that her anti-depressants may have caused her infant daughter's severe birth defects, something that it is pointed out that no other doctor would have ever said. However, Shaun's bluntness at times has proven helpful such as in "Disaster" when he pointed out a couple's doubts, causing them to confront those doubts and reach a resolution.
After getting transferred to pathology, Shaun struggles with the transition despite being able to still save lives from a distance. Shaun makes it clear that he wishes to remain a surgeon despite the problems that come with his communication skills. Doctor Jackson Han suggests that while Shaun may make a good surgical resident, he would not make a good surgeon because of his communication issues which would hamper Shaun with interacting with his patients and leading a team of his own residents and believes that Shaun is able to function as a resident because he has the safety net of his attendings and fellow residents. Shaun later suffers an emotional breakdown that leads him to forcefully demand his job back and causes Han to fire him. Shaun's breakdown leads to him sitting against the wall in the locker room and thumbing his toy scalpel to the point that it breaks and then continuing even after that.
Following his firing, Shaun's communication issues leads to him failing to catch the cues that Zack Cordell is angry with him at a bar, leading to Zack beating him up. Even as Zack attacks him, Shaun can only tell him that he doesn't like to be touched, leading to more hitting before Zack suddenly collapses. In a notable departure from his usual behavior, Shaun lies about how he found Zack and tries to seek treatment for his injuries on his own rather than getting help. As noted by Glassman, Shaun shows mercy to Zack despite his cruel and violent actions which is extraordinary in and of itself. Even more extraordinary is that Shaun's statement that Zack was misdiagnosed before collapsing from his injuries leads Claire to successfully replicate Shaun's thought processes to see through his eyes and save Zack's life. In doing so, Shaun made Claire a better doctor because he inspired her to look through his eyes and save a life. According to Glassman, this is proof that while Shaun may not communicate as others do, he does communicate and is heard and inspires others. Shaun also inspires Andrews, who was once the most reluctant to hire him, to stand up to Han and fire him so that Shaun can be rehired by offering Andrews advice that Steve had once given to him. Claire later tells Shaun that she sees him as a role model on certain things and seeks Shaun's advice on how to deal with her mother.
Another problem Shaun often has is with romantic relationships. After meeting Lea Dilallo, Shaun is immediately attracted to her, but his lack of knowledge in romantic matters leads to confusion, particularly after he asks Claire for advice on flirting. Lea kissing Shaun before leaving for Hershey leaves him deeply hurt to the point that he's rude and mean to Lea when she returns, expecting to find a supportive friend as Shaun wants to avoid getting hurt again. After their relationship resumes platonically, Shaun has trouble adjusting to Lea having a boyfriend and shows signs of possibly being in love with her. Shaun appears to have possibly moved on from Lea or is at least trying to as he decided to ask Carly Lever out instead, getting coaching from Claire on how to do so. Though Shaun was awkward in asking, Carly understood what he was trying to ask and accepted, leaving Shaun so excited that he forgot to leave the chocolates and flowers he bought for Carly. Shaun's first date with Carly proves to be awkward and eventful, but it leaves Shaun overwhelmed and unhappy because of all the unpredictability he experienced. As a result, Shaun is left unsure if it is worth pursuing a romantic relationship is worth it even after seeing two couples who experienced issues and came out well. Despite this, Shaun has genuine feelings for Carly as shown when she asked him to speak with her instead of ignoring Carly if he had feelings for her at all. Carly is shown to understand Shaun on a level that most people don't due to having an autistic sister and as such, isn't immediately put off by Shaun's blunt and potentially hurtful answers that are given in the moment. As a result, after talking about their doubts and getting advice from multiple people, Shaun chose to continue his relationship with Carly by seeking out a more relaxed informal date that wouldn't be so overwhelming to him and had been described by Claire as something she greatly enjoyed when Claire was using her own dating experiences as an example.
|"Burnt Food"||"Mount Rushmore"||"Oliver"||"Pipes"||"Point Three Percent"||"Not Fake"|
|"22 Steps"||"Apple"||"Intangibles"||"Sacrifice"||"Islands: Part One"||"Islands: Part Two"|
|"Hello"||"Middle Ground"||"36 Hours"||"Tough Titmouse"||"Carrots"||"Two-Ply (or Not Two-Ply)"|
|"Hubert"||"Stories"||"Empathy"||"Quarantine"||"Quarantine: Part Two"||"Aftermath"|
|"Xin"||"Faces"||"Risk and Reward"||"Believe"||"Breakdown"||"Trampoline"|
|"Disaster"||"Debts"||"Claire"||"Take My Hand"||"First Case, Second Base"||"Episode 3.06"|
|"Episode 3.07"||"Episode 3.08"||"Episode 3.09"||"Episode 3.10"||"Episode 3.11"||"Episode 3.12"|
|"Episode 3.13"||"Episode 3.14"||"Episode 3.15"||"Episode 3.16"||"Episode 3.17"||"Episode 3.18"|
- It is unknown when he was diagnosed with autism and savant syndrome.
- Freddie Highmore, the actor who portrays Shaun, studied Spanish, which his TV series character is fluent in.
- Dr. Glassman states that he has known Shaun for 12 years, they met when Shaun was 14, making Shaun’s current age 26.
- Shaun loves cats.