The real Hunter "Patch" Adams was a late sixties med school rebel. Having spent time as a teen in a mental institution, he determined to change the inhuman approach to medicine with such "insane" ideas like treating patients as people, not as numbers and charts, and using laughter as a complement to medicine. Patch went on to open his own clinic, The Gesundheit! Institute, where he could put his practices to work.
In the movie, we see Patch (Robin Williams) in the mental institution, and then watch as he determines to graduate from med school. An underdog story instantly develops. His roommate is Mr. College Man, determined to claw his way to the top through hard serious study, and has little regard for Patch's antics. The university deans are, likewise, unamused by Patch's ability to turn an enema bulb and bedpans into a clown nose and shoes. But all the "real" people -- the nurses, other students, and especially dying children -- think Patch is just what the doctor ordered.
I love true stories put to film, but I suspect that much of this script has been trumped up to provide increased dramatic appeal. For instance, Patch gets incredible grades, yet he hangs out at the hospital entertaining patients rather than studying. How does he do it? He is accused of cheating, but we are left with the impression that his work is honest. Is he a genius? Photographic memory? Perhaps it's a screenwriter's tool to keep the audience interested, or merely a dismissing of facts that don't fit the story.
Not that this is a worthless film. Certainly it shows the importance of warm bedside manners and learning not to let stress get the best of us. But unfortunately this particular remedy contains high doses of profanity and sexual innuendo -- like when Patch creates two giant female legs that lead to the doors where a group of visiting gynecologists will enter. Again, I'm suspicious of the reality of this event -- where does a real starving med student get money for these huge props?