“Oh no, sweetie, put your hand down. We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”
That’s what Tamika Cross, an actual physician, obstetrician, and gynecologist, remembers a Delta flight attendant telling her when she offered to help a fellow passenger who suddenly became unresponsive on her flight.
“I naturally jumped into doctor mode as no one else was getting up,” Cross explained in a viral Facebook post. “I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.”
Cross believes the only reason the flight attendant was so skeptical about her being an actual physician, nurse, or medical professional, was because she is black. There are 110 million emergency room visits each year, but when a medical emergency happens at 30,000 feet in the air, there are few options. Unless a medical professional is on board, airplane passengers are at a much higher risk.
Yet in the weeks since Cross’ Facebook post went viral, many other physicians of color have described being stopped from administering medical aid because of flight attendants who doubted their medical credentials. Not only that, but the hashtag #WhataDoctorLooksLike started trending on Twitter.
In a recent article in The Washington Post, writer and doctor Pamela Wible explained just how common the phenomenon is:
I’m a physician who investigates human rights violations in medicine, and after Cross’s story was told, I received a flurry of emails from other dark-skinned doctors bypassed in favor of white nurses, pharmacists or doctors. Yes, these female physicians offering critical-care expertise are told to sit down and keep quiet while lesser-skilled, lighter-skinned men are ushered right down the aisle to ailing passengers. Even when women are seated close to ill passengers and identify themselves as physicians, they’re still pushed aside. Here’s why: At 30,000 feet, the pressure of an emergency may intensify underlying implicit bias…
According to the article, Wible is a white “family physician who has provided medical care during two in-flight emergencies. Nobody asked for her credentials.” Yet when black-skinned doctors offer to help — especially if they’re women — flight attendants often react with skepticism.
Here’s what anesthesiologist Kadijah Ray told Wible:
I’ve received that same treatment on two different flights in 2006 and 2008 while trying to help people in distress. They passed me up for whites: a female pharmacist, nurse and male MD who I believe was something like radiology; I can’t remember exactly his specialty, but I remember him telling them, ‘Trust me, you want an anesthesiologist to help before me.’ And no, I didn’t have my credentials with me. Would far exceed the airline’s weight and size requirements.
Tamika Cross Won’t Be Ignored
In the month since Cross shared her story on Facebook, her post has received 48,582 shares, 22,000 comments, and more than 150,000 likes. There are major national airports located in 31 states in the U.S., and although Delta Airlines quickly stated that the incident “does not reflect the Delta culture,” Cross is obviously just one of many physicians who receive this treatment in the air.
That night, the crew asked all physicians on board the flight to press their call buttons after a man passed out. When the flight attendant saw Cross press her button, the flight attendant was shocked and began bombarding Cross with questions and demanding proof.
“‘Oh wow you’re an actual physician?'” Cross recalled the flight attending saying. “I reply yes. She said, ‘let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?’ I respond ‘OBGYN, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not they do have doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need.'”
Cross said that after she was questioned, a white doctor then walked over to the unresponsive man and offered to help.
“She says to me, ‘Thanks for your help, but he can help us, and he has his credentials.'” Cross added. The man, in fact did not show the flight attendant any medical credentials, however. All he showed her was that he is a white man.
“I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling,” added Cross.
Fortunately, the unresponsive man soon after woke up and began talking again. After an issue with his blood pressure, the flight attendant finally asked Cross for her assistance and then apologized to Cross several time and offered to give her extra air miles.
“I kindly refused,” Cross said. “This is going higher than her. I don’t want SkyMiles in exchange for blatant discrimination.”