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Why Everyone on TikTok Is Suddenly Declaring ‘I Am a Surgeon’

Daniel Dae Kim as Dr. Han in The Good Doctor

Without context, scrolling TikTok and Twitter users might find themselves confused by the latest viral meme: a recently resurfaced scene from a 2019 episode of the ABC medical drama The Good Doctor. While The Good Doctor has been around since 2017 and spans six seasons, the “I Am a Surgeon!” meme has elevated it to a new viral status that it hasn’t reached before. TikTok is a common medium for The Good Doctor fans to share clips of the show, usually highlighting particularly intense moments or scenes that depict interesting medical conditions. However, it seems even non-fans latched onto this particular scene in which the lead character, Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), yells at his colleague Dr. Jackson Han (Daniel Dae Kim), “I am a surgeon!”

As a result, the scene has been swirling around social media, tweaked with filters and captions. If you are wondering why Highmore and the phrase “I am a surgeon” are floating around your For You pages, here’s an explanation of what the meme means, why the scene takes place in the first place, and how it has renewed conversation about The Good Doctor‘s depiction of autism.

‘I am a surgeon’ meme explained

The “I am a surgeon” meme comes from a scene in The Good Doctor season 2 episode 17, “Breakdown.” When taken out of context, the scene may appear a bit funny, but the original scene was not intended to be humorous. In The Good Doctor, Dr. Murphy is a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, who often faces discrimination from others despite proving that he is a medical genius. Dr. Han, Chief of Surgery at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, is one colleague who frequently discriminates against Dr. Murphy. He believes his autism makes him incapable of working directly with patients. Instead of trying to help him in his interactions, he decides to have Dr. Murphy work in Pathology to prevent him from interacting firsthand with patients.

However, due to his skill, Dr. Murphy is sometimes still brought in to see patients when his colleagues need aid in making a diagnosis or in planning a complex surgery. In “Breakdown,” he is called in for such a consultation but then barred from performing the actual surgery. When he goes to demand Dr. Han give him his original position as a surgeon back, he has an emotional breakdown where he begins shouting, “I am a surgeon,” while Dr. Han looks on unmoved. He then responds to Dr. Murphy’s breakdown by firing him from the hospital.

Hence, it is a pretty serious scene when viewed with context. However, social media users memefied it, using it out of context as a joke. Some changed the word “surgeon” to “sturgeon,” while others messed with the pitch and volume and created surreal effects like laser eyes and distorted faces. Others jokingly pretended the scene was them playing the game Operation or transplanted Highmore into other popular media like Batman and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

It seems most individuals making these memes were either unaware of the context of the show or were pointing out the over-dramatization. It is not meant to mock individuals with autism, but it does take aim at how The Good Doctor, a show with neurotypical actors and writers, depicts autism.

What happened to Dr. Han on The Good Doctor?

Daniel Dae Kim as Dr. Jackson Han in The Good Doctor

Dr. Han only appears in The Good Doctor in season 2. After he fired Dr. Murphy, he was fired by hospital president Dr. Marcus Andrews (Hill Harper). Andrews was always one of Dr. Murphy’s biggest advocates and was one of the major players in getting him hired in the first place. However, when Dr. Han refused to change his position on Dr. Murphy’s termination, Dr. Andrews fired Dr. Han and rehired Dr. Murphy. Dr. Han never returned to the series, though Kim remains active as a producer on the show. Surprisingly, Dr. Andrews also ended up being fired as it was considered an abuse of his power to fire Dr. Han.

Is Freddie Highmore autistic?

Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor

Given the rise of the “I am a surgeon” meme, those unfamiliar with the show may be curious about whether Dr. Murphy’s actor, Highmore, is also autistic. Highmore has confirmed that he is not autistic, but that he conducted research, consulted experts in the field, and had discussions with members of the autism community to inform his portrayal of Dr. Murphy. In an interview with Digital Spy, he stated,

I’m constantly learning. Aside from continual research, or working with the consultant that we have, I’m also talking to people who feel that they have a personal connection to the show through autism, and are pleased or thankful that the show is seeking to raise awareness in that way… I feel very fortunate to have been offered the part of Shaun… it seemed like an incredibly important project, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it. I’m proud to be a part of it.

The show has consulted experts in the field, such as Dr. Melissa Reiner M.Ed, and has also had neurodivergent guest stars on the show, such as Coby Bird. However, it has still received criticism for having a neurotypical actor portray the lead character. Additionally, some have criticized how the show chooses to portray autism. For example, outrage arose when a scene depicted Dr. Murphy being disrespectful and unaccepting to a transgender patient, and some have also criticized the “I am a surgeon” meme for how the show depicts him having a breakdown. The major problem is that the show could mislead one into thinking that Dr. Murphy depicts how all individuals with autism behave or react to certain situations.

In response to the criticism, Highmore defended the show and its choices by saying that everyone with autism is different and that Dr. Murphy can’t represent everyone on the spectrum. Hence, he’s just depicted as one unique individual with autism. He told Gold Derby, “I knew people personally before this show came along who have autism. But when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. That’s important to remember with Shaun, constructing him as an individual. He can’t represent everyone on the spectrum, in the same way, your ‘typical’ lead character on a show can’t possibly represent everyone.”

(featured image: ABC)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.