African American doctor Tamika Cross made headlines last week when she wrote about being denied the chance to assist an unresponsive passenger on a Delta flight out of Detroit because she didn’t have her medical credentials, only to watch them allow a white man without credentials treat the man.
In the wake of the backlash that followed, Ashley Denmark, MD, from South Carolina, wrote a blog post about a similar incident that occurred the same week on a Delta flight from Seattle to Hawaii.
One hour into the flight, an attendant took the intercom and asked for a doctor or nurse to help a passenger who had fallen ill. Denmark says she rushed to the front of the plane without hesitation.
When she arrived, the passenger was being assisted by two nurses. Having more medical experience, she offered to take over. But that’s not what happened:
“I got out of my seat and made my way towards the front of the cabin where I was greeted by two Caucasian women and a delta flight attendant. I quickly asked ‘What’s going on?'”
“Then I stated, ‘I’m a doctor. How can I help?’ Immediately, I was greeted by puzzled looks from all three women. The flight attendant asked, ‘Are you a doctor?’ to which I replied ‘Yes.'”
“My response only left a more puzzled look on the attendant’s face. She turned around and began to talk to another flight attendant. I stood there in bewilderment because someone on the plane was in need of medical assistance and no one was escorting me to the passenger in need.”
“Finally, one of the Caucasian passengers who came to assist spoke and stated her and the other passenger present to assist were both nurses. Then she asked, ‘Are you a doctor?’ to which I responded ‘Yes’ …..again.”
“She immediately responded ‘Well you need credentials to show you are a medical professional.’ I gave a funny look but, remained composed and quickly quipped ‘I have my hospital badge which should be enough.'”
“At this time the flight attendant turned around to address us again. She inquired from the two nurses what field of medicine in which they worked.”
“At this point, I had grown annoyed. I had been standing for four minutes and had yet to see the passenger needing medical assistance. I grew even more perplexed as time passed. Why was the flight attendant addressing the nurses if a doctor is present and able to assist a passenger in need of medical attention?”
“I interrupted the flight attendant’s discussions with the two nurses and stated, ‘I have my hospital ID badge which shows I’m a physician.'”
“The Delta flight attendant continued to look puzzled then stated, #We have two nurses here who came first. You can have seat now and we will let them handle it. If we need more help we will come and find you.'”
“Wait a minute- stop the presses! What just happened?!?! I advised that I was a doctor who was licensed to provide medical care. Instead of being escorted to the passenger in need of help, I was directed to return to my seat and told that the two nurses could take care of the situation.”
Denmark says she returned to her seat, but then it dawned on her…
“At that moment the gravity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. Apparently the nurses and flight attendants didn’t think I was a doctor. Why else were nurses being allowed to take charge in a medical situation when a doctor was present? Surely it couldn’t be the color of my brown skin?”
Denmark further explained that she encounters this kind of discrimination often.
“As an African American female physician, I am too familiar with this scenario. Despite overcoming and excelling academically and obtaining the title of Dr. in front of my name, I still get side-eye glances when I introduce myself as Dr. Denmark.”
“Commonly, I’m mistaken for an assistant, janitor, secretary, nurse, student, etc even when I have my white coat on; I’m called these names more frequently than I would like instead of Dr. Denmark. In these situations, we are often taught to be graceful and smile in the face of adversity out of fear of repercussions such as being viewed as ‘hostile’, ‘too sensitive’, or my favorite ‘you are misinterpreting the situation.'”
Denmark said she decided to share her experience after reading about Tamika Cross.
“I share my story to bring awareness that the face of medicine is changing,” Denmark told Yahoo. “Doctors can be young, female, or come from different ethnic backgrounds. My hope is that Delta takes into account my unfortunate experience and prevents a similar occurrence from happening again. Despite this experience, I have remained focused and will continue to do so, striving to be the best physician, mother, and wife I can be.”
“Healthcare is centered around group efforts from various medical professionals but, the doctor ALWAYS serves as the leader making healthcare decisions. So here I was, the doctor with 11 years of training being asked to take a seat and not partake in caring for the passenger in need.”