Tamika Cross, an obstetrician-gynecologist in her last year of residency at a hospital in Houston, wrote on Facebook that she was on a flight from Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 8, when the crew called for medical help to assist a fellow passenger.
Cross raised her hand to signal that she could help but says she was waived off, told by the flight attendant that the crew was “looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel.”
She said that even when she clarified that she was indeed a doctor, she was asked to show her credentials, as another passenger, a white male, approached the scene. “She [the crew member] says to me ‘thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials’,” Cross recounts, suggesting his “credentials” came from his appearance as a white male fitting the crew’s notion of what a doctor would look like. Cross says she eventually was asked to help, and did so despite her resentment about what happened.
Delta is investigating the incident. The airline confirmed the presence of an ill passenger on the flight, and says that three medical professionals on the flight identified themselves to the crew. “Only one was able to produce documentation of medical training and that is the doctor who was asked to assist the customer onboard,” Delta says, adding that flight attendants “are trained to collect information from medical volunteers offering to assist with an onboard medical emergency” and are instructed to ask questions about the person’s training when professional identification isn’t available.
Delta also said it is “troubled by any accusations of discrimination,” and has reached out to Cross as it looks into the incident.
Meanwhile, Cross’s account has struck a chord on social media (hashtag #beingadoctorwhileblack). Her post has been shared more than 38,000 times, and inspired other black female doctors to share images of themselves at work or at their medical school graduations (hashtag #whatadoctorlookslike).
Artemis Medical Society, an organization of black female physicians, has sent a letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastian criticizing the episode as an expression of discrimination based on race and gender, and asking that it be investigated by a “diverse team.” The letter notes that “Delta Airlines, as an Atlanta based corporation, should be acutely aware of the history of racism and sexism in our nation and how it continues to cast long shadow in our society.”