It’s true. Man nearly dies on plane because crew didn’t believe black woman was doctor. The medical fiasco on Delta airlines has now gone viral after a Facebook post by Tamika Cross, M.D., the physician who was turned away from caring for an unresponsive passenger. Tamika joins a long list of female physicians who have experienced the same discrimination. Meet them here. In their own words . . .
Tamika Cross, M.D. ~ OB-GYN Chief Resident
“I was on Delta flight DL945 and someone 2 rows in front of me was screaming for help. Her husband was unresponsive. I naturally jumped into Doctor mode as no one else was getting up. Unbuckle my seatbelt and throw my tray table up and as I’m about to stand up, flight attendant says, ‘everyone stay calm, it’s just a night terror, he is alright.’ I continue to watch the scene closely. A couple mins later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells ‘call overhead for a physician on board.’ I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me, ‘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.’ I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks. Then overhead they paged ‘any physician on board please press your button.’ I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said, “oh wow you’re an actual physician?” 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?’ (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while bombarding me with questions). 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.’ Another ‘seasoned’ white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me ‘thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials.’ (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the ‘description of a doctor’). I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling . . . Supervisor verified that with me afterwards. In emergency, they never ask to show credentials. This could have been life or death. We didn’t know if he had a pulse or anything!”
Kadijah Ray, M.D. ~ Anesthesiologist
“In response to the horrific treatment of Dr. Tamika Cross on Delta Airlines! I’ve received that same treatment on 2 different flights while trying to help people in distress. They passed me up for all whites. A female pharmacist and nurse. And a 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 her to help before me’ when I told him I was Anesthesia. And no, I ‘don’t have my credentials with me.’ You wouldn’t allow me to carry that on! Would far exceed your weight and size requirements.”
Trupti Shah M.D. ~ Emergency Medicine
“On an Egypt Air overnight flight from Cairo to JFK, the lady seated in front of me was having difficulty breathing. I heard the commotion but did not understand the conversation since it was in Arabic. I asked if I could help and identified myself as a doctor. I was told by the male head flight attendant to sit down. They then announced overhead asking for medical help. I got up again but was ignored. A male cardiologist, from NY, who was fluent in Arabic offered assistance and was immediately ushered to the woman. He noticed that I was trying to help but was not allowed. While they went to get him the medical kit on board, we spoke. He had trained at my hospital. As soon as he was handed the medical kit, he immediately gave it to me but the flight attendant tried to take it back. He had to intervene in order for me to help the woman; he translated. The woman had started taking Amoxicillin given to her for a sore throat and developed a rash, itchy throat and shortness of breath. I checked her blood pressure and lungs. Then I gave her Prednisone, Benadryl, and Pepcid from my carry-on (all of which I carry with me when I travel abroad.) She felt better after 30 minutes. An hour later, the meals were served. I had reserved a vegetarian meal but when I requested it, the same male flight attendant told me that ‘you people always lie.’ He argued and refused to believe me. He asked for proof and I showed him my printed flight itinerary. He then brought me a completely burnt tray.”
Jessica Kiss, D.O. ~ Family Medicine Chief Resident
“Same thing happened to me on the side of the freeway. Car overturned, glass in head, pouring blood. People questioned me as I ran over in horror as they kept moving him around to check the wound. I say ‘I’m a doctor. Please lay him down. Someone keep his neck still. Someone hold pressure on the wound.’ The other lady on scene tells me to prove it! Go away, lady, I’m trying to keep this guy from dying from your negligence.”
Mariam Anwar, M.D. ~ Internal Medicine/Geriatrics
“On an Emirates flight the Flight Manager asked for my credentials and wouldn’t let me help. Let a white nurse help though without asking for her credentials. Of course I helped anyway. It was an elderly male with [emphysema] COPD exacerbation, hypoxic and also having an anxiety attack. We had to calculate if we would have enough oxygen to last the trip without having to land… would not make it if he needed more than baseline (5 Liters). The manager put him in business class and gave us seats too. We monitored him for several hours, he became unresponsive, hypertensive. I checked an EKG, glucose and after several sternal runs he woke up. Of course I lost several hours of sleep on a long flight and a flight attendant had to take care of my toddler while I assisted him. When his shift was over another manager came (he was Arab). He told me to go back to economy class and he let the white nurse stay in business class the entire flight! Blatant discrimination and lack of respect!”
Susan Goldberg Cohen, M.D. ~ Internal Medicine/Palliative Care
“Had same issue on a plane when sick passenger was in row behind me but ‘Marcus Welby’ in tweed jacket ran from way back of plane…. Flight attendant admonished me for not taking my seat when there was a medical emergency in progress—ugh . . .”
Amina Moghul, D.O. ~ Family Medicine
“Had something similar happen to me. A patient syncopized [fainted] right next to my seat. I identified myself as a physician and was pushed out of the way and told to step aside for an older white male RN to tend to the passenger. I was so stunned, I froze for a few seconds before politely introducing myself to the nurse as a physician and recommended we work together. The flight attendant continued to ignore me and direct questions and offers to get help or equipment to the male nurse. I thought it was just me that had experienced this…”
Ashley Denmark, D.O ~ Family Medicine
“On Delta 2215, a flight attendant requested over the intercom a doctor or nurse to report to front of cabin to assist a passenger. Without hesitation, I made my way and 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 that she 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.’ The Delta flight attendant continued to look puzzled then stated, ‘We have two nurses here who came first. You can have a seat now and we will let them handle it. If we need more help we will come and find you.’ As I walked back I scanned the cabin. I looked for someone in distress, unresponsive wondering who was this person who needed help. 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? 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. 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.” Read more on Dr. Denmark’s Delta discrimination here.
Janelle Evans, M.D. ~ Urogynecologist
“We were in the middle of the Atlantic on Delta Flight 200 to Johannesburg, South Africa, when a man had a GI bleed, hypotension, and became unresponsive in my aisle. Of the four physicians on board, only I had credentials with me and the purser denied the man care until one of us produced it. I am a urogynecologist and there was also an ICU physician, but she was told she could not help (she was Latina and similarly petite like me). I told her to ignore the purser and assist. While we worked to stabilize the patient, the purser would not put the lights on to start IVs and adequately see the medical kit. The kit was less than 1/2 stocked with no aspirin, no nitro, nothing. She tried to start drink service while we had a fully naked man in the walkway between lavatories and bloody stool all over one side of the plane. We successfully stabilized him and no sooner had we done so that she angrily declared that we were relieved of medical duty because she was going to deal with the in-flight phone physician rather than us. I had made it clear I wasn’t leaving the area and personally spoke with the ground doc who confirmed that his condition required in-flight assistance. I never heard from Delta until my article got published. It did not go viral like Dr. Cross, but they did call and comp our flight. I never received a thank you from the purser and left the plane with the patient, covered in bloody feces. In the aftermath, apparently the purser tried to cover it up and only reported it as a minor incident. My information was not included.”
Salma Elfaki. M.D. ~ Pediatrician
“In 2012, I experienced the same thing as Dr. Cross on a transatlantic flight. The flight attendant dismissed me initially and asked me to sit back at my seat as they needed a real doctor. At that point a black male acquaintance of mine (also a doctor) was being escorted back to the patient. He called me across the aisle to come help him. The flight attendant appeared shocked. She confirmed with him that I am indeed a doctor. He told her, ‘She’s a pediatrician and a very good one.’ He proceeded to examine the patient and I requested their medical kit. Once I received it I got to work to see what I could use and took it from there with my colleague, an adult cardiologist. We were both able to work together and help the patient. They didn’t ask me for credentials, but clearly had to take a man’s word for it!”
More stories coming . . .
Contact Dr. Wible to add your story.
This article picked up by The Washington Post and also by TIME Magazine. As a result, now a policy change at Delta!
Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician who has offered medical care during 2 in-flight emergencies. Nobody ever asked for her credentials. They did offer a bottle of wine as a parting gift. She doesn’t drink.
First I would like to say that as a woman of color, I appreciate you spreading Dr. Tamika Cross’s story as it needs to be told.
Secondly, I can’t help but to be bothered by the fact that you made this about gender while ignoring the fact that RACE also played a huge part in this. Every time some uses an opportunity to explain away race its troubling. This isn’t just a female physician problem but also a race problem. You shouldn’t use this opportunity to piggy back. It’s obvious that race played a role in this yet you not only failed to mention it but want to post stories from other females. This says loud and clear “See…its a gender problem…not a race one”.
This is why Black/Brown women are tired of being lumped into this “Feminist Movement”. You want to use our numbers to generate Women Equality but refuse to go the extra step to make sure the Women of Color receive the same equality. Our vaginas only matter when fighting for the entire gender but the movement grows silient or piggyback when its an issue that effects us.
Again, I thank you for spreading her story but you truly missed the mark her.
~Black Female Physican (OB/GYN)
All over my Facebook page I have listed that this is clearly racism. The racism part of this story is what got me so angry and fueled my interest in writing this piece. As you can see so far I have included 3 of 4 brown women because (in my mind) I obviously feel this is a racism issue and I allow the female physicians included to speak for themselves in their direct quotes.
Now 4 of 5 women are brown. I am continuing to collect stories and willing to post from any female physician who has experienced discrimination. Racism is huge part of this story.
How is it “obvious that race played a role in this”?
Don’t be stupid. It’s obvious.
And yet….they still allowed the non black nurses or physician to go through?
Are you kidding me?
Per Janelle Evans: I posted an article on FemInEM.org on 9/1 of my experience on a very long transoceanic flight where the purser would not let doctors help with an unresponsive patient without credentials. She then tried to obstruct all of the efforts i made the remainder of the flight
I am a Hispanic 3rd year medical student. Just a few weeks ago after I arrived at the clinic assigned for the day and had the same Doctor I had work with the previous week, as soon as I let my things down, she sees me and says “oh who are you here to translate for today?” assuming I was an interpreter although I had my student white coat on. This is frustrating, and it IS a race issue. We, minorities work very hard to achieve a medical degree, we sacrifice, we overcome a lot of obstacles, and are still constantly reminded we “don’t fit” in the medical field.
I am a 2nd year psychiatry resident and one of the medical students I am working with this month (who happens to be a Hispanic male) told me about how he had rotated with the same attending for 3 weeks in another specialty and she put on his evaluation that she had never worked with him. It is just ridiculous to hear something like that happen.
What? That is insane!!!
It’s a shame that happened to you, especially when there are so many female physicians ( and AA ones) in Atlanta anyway.
I feel you though, RN’s get it too. No one thinks your the RN, LPN or
NA yes. They especially are not expecting you to be in charge. It’s sad, but true.
If I were you I would have loved to shut her up by telling her if she can’t help the patient then get out of the way because I can.
I am a man, a nurse practitioner, a tenured professor, and approaching retirement. The number of times physicians, both men and women (incl female MDs of colour) have yelled at me to mind m y manner and keep in my place is lost on me. Truly, well beyond 50 separate incidents where my dignity was trampled, by men and women.
it is shocking to me that these issues are described in gender rather than professional/displinary terms. That women MDs keep ringing this bell is revealing.
I only read the first case and in this case it was another woman who “asked for MD credentials…”? I have been the responder of a plane, more than once, and I have never been asked for my credentials. Clearly this is because I have a penis …
Sorry, did I mention I was a nurse responding to a request for a physician?
POWER DISTRIBUTION in the health and caring sciences is an important conversation that is lost when the discussion is limited to gender.
It is also important to keep in mind, that while women may want the obedience and social privilege the physician role used to garner … Society is recognizing this expectation as unethical and potentially dangerous.
Yes, the fact that you, a nurse, have never been asked for your credentials, even by women, when women are asked for their credentials, is definitely because you have a penis. How can you miss this? How can you doubt this? The fact that you are being sarcastic only shows just how bad the problem is. You experience your male privilege for yourself & still do not see it.
You may wish to reflect on the price of your certainty ….
Airlines get sued, requesting credentials is not UN reasonable. As my post indicates I identified myself as a nurse, not a physician, and my creds were not required. Is that because as a man doing women’s work I was deemed to be competent, or because women’s work really doesn’t require credentialing?
My male privilege gets me assigned to the heaviest patients, the most disruptive families, and because I am single, every Christmas holiday. Is that the privilege to which you refer? (rhetorical)
Take GOOD CARE, cuz that really is what it is about.
“Airlines get sued, requesting credentials is not UN reasonable. As my post indicates I identified myself as a nurse, not a physician, and my creds were not required. Is that because as a man doing women’s work I was deemed to be competent, or because women’s work really doesn’t require credentialing?”
yes, you are deemed qualified just by being male. You’d have to fail and if so miserably for that trust to waver. you wouldn’t understand this because being a male is all you’ve known. As a person who practiced medicine for 10+ years as a male before I transitioned, I can tell you that for certain people question my diagnosis’ and recommendations far more often now as a trans-woman than they ever did the newly wide-eyed male physician. its so deeply part of the American culture that we are all doing this one way or the other without recognizing it
You tell it as it is. I have plenty of experience of women (including women of color and younger women) telling me how to do my job (I am a high ranking secretary) and thinking that they are my boss and they can just push me around like they do with their kids and husband.
Shared this from a fellow PMG onto my FB page. You rock. Keep up the strong work
I fly a lot and had a similar experience. There was a lady waiting to board, and I remember seeing she didn’t look well with gray skin and legs swollen like tree trunks. Sure enough, mid flight she couldn’t breathe and they requested medical attention. There was myself, a nurse practitioner and another nurse. I addressed myself and my credentials. I started to get the distressed persons history from her companion and requested oxygen. They asked me to return to my seat. They asked the nurse to get her vital signs while they called the on call flight doctor. I requested to help the person with oxygen again and I was told to be quiet. I reminded them I was licensed to practice medicine in 5 states and held a license in our current airspace. The nurse was taking forever to get vital signs and the emergency phone wasn’t working. The patient gasped and managed to ask for oxygen, so the gave her one liter…..I asked to give her 3 liters. I was told to be quiet. We landed and EMT came on the plane and asked for the events and history. The flight attendants blew it off. I interrupted to give them an accurate assessment and I was thanked. Finally, the attendant asked the nurse to see her license for documentation purposes, and she replied that she retired over 10 years ago and it was no longer active. I’m smh…..Huh! They asked for mine & I politely reminded them that I was told to shut up and that they had no purpose for me, so basically you can forget it. They have no clue; it’s not about race. The patient is Hispanic and the retired nurse is white.
And the stories keep coming. This really pisses me off!
I hope you are on my flight if I ever have a problem.
Female physicians of all races face issues about not being seen as a doctor regularly. How many times have patients not believed we are doctors? But being actively blocked from helping a patient in distress is a whole new level.
Reading these stories about flight attendants demanding “credentials”…. I’ve been a doctor for 13 years now, licensed in 3 states, and I have no clue what “credentials” I would produce while out and about (like on a plane) to “prove” I’m a doctor. None of the states I am licensed in have any sort of wallet sized version. I usually don’t even have my work ID with me, because as soon as I get home from work I put it in it’s designated location so that I don’t lose it and I only take it when I’m going to work.
So I’m curious. What “credentials” are doctors supposed to produce?
My diplomas are 3×3 feet—everything is bigger in Texas. Framed. I have no idea! I have heard that a few states still issue little paper licenses (wallet size). I had one like 20 years ago in Arizona. Never carried it on me though. After hearing these stories make me want to carry a full medic kit and diploma on every flight. Definitely bringing my pulse ox and stethoscope from now on. Geez!
If you are licensed in Texas, the Texas Medical Board issues a physician ID card with the permit. I have carried one in my wallet for 37 years. I responded to inflight emergency and asked for credential. I produced it and proceeded to treat anaphylaxis from peanuts, using the emergency kit drugs and oxygen.
Yes! I was on an overseas flight from Europe, back in the days when there was still a smoking section (1993). I was sitting next to my stepfather, a 6’6″ white male. There was an overhead page for a physician to go to the smoking section. My proud stepfather rang the call bell and informed the attendant that I was a physician. The attendant looked very skeptical and asked to see my medical license (who carries their medical license with them???). I told her I did not have it on my person. She reluctantly led me to the passenger who was in status asthmaticus in the smoking section. I, fortunately, had an inhaler, and they had a supplemental oxygen tank. They landed the flight once we reached land, and the paramedics climbed aboard, pushed me out of the way and told me they did not need report from me.
LEST YOU THINK THIS IS A THING OF THE PAST, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT LAST WEEKEND: I have been a board-certified pediatric cardiologist since 1994. I specialize in sports cardiology (and have staffed many medical tents) and was watching my son’s baseball game in the 100 degree Phoenix heat, when the umpire was struck in the face with a ball and “went down”. The large Caucasian male EMT ran in front of me, and stabilized the umpire’s neck. I asked if he was a physician, and his response was, “No. I am an EMT and we take care of all of this. You MDs wit for us to finish our work. We don’t really need you.” I ignored him, took the man’s pulse and asked his age and if he had any medical problems. I found out he was 62 years old and very lucid, he took only Gliburide, which he had had at noon (2 hours’ prior) followed by two candy bars and nothing to drink. I told the EMT his pulse was 90 and regular, his cap refill was <3 seconds and that he was cool and clammy. I recommended oral electrolytes, as he was very coherent. Just then a Hispanic middle aged man ran up, stating he was a paramedic, ex-fire chief, and that the umpire needed oxygen immediately and that we needed to activate EMS. I disagreed with him, and he told me that "docs are only on the receiving end" and that they ""know nothing about what happens in the field." None-the-less, I stayed with the man, asked that they hold an umbrella over him to shade him, gave him sips of Gatorade, and asked someone to find a ham sandwich ASAP. Within 5 minutes, the area rescue team arrived: 4 burly Caucasian males, who stepped in front of me, pushed me out of the way, and addressed only the male EMT and paramedic. I stood back while they took the same history and did their assessment and then left 5 minutes later. The ex-Paramedic, fire chief (BTW, had not been practicing for 16 years), looked incredulous and asked me why they did not give this guy supplemental oxygen. I told him that a pink, diaphoretic, overweight, orthostatic patient was more in need of rehydration, replenishment of electrolytes and protein. "You docs are only on the other end…" Did he know how many times I had shocked and done chest compressions, placed central lines in the rain, during a marathon? Nope. I did not feel the need to tell him. I made sure my umpire friend could sit up and eat his ham sandwich. He smiled, hugged me and thanked me as he walked away to his care.
What a bunch of Dolts. Oh, BTW, how can a HUGE sports complex in Phoenix, NOT have an AED???? I am getting one for my backpack to match my little denim skirt,
OMG Michelle. Sexism alive and well. Amazing. 2016. It just keeps happening. Thank you for being YOU. And take a pic of your AED and matching skirt for us on Facebook. LOVE YOU!!
The only time it makes sense to me to defer to a paramedic is if the patient needs intubation and the equipment is available (unless you are an anesthesiologist). It’s disturbing to hear how little respect these men showed you.
If one looks deeper into the archives of medicine, your realize that most American physicians have been miseducated. We have not been given the full spectrum of what Hippocrates used to treat his patients. I’m amazed at our scientific advancements with medications and surgical procedures. We have solved and can treat some of the history’s most painful, miserable and deadly diseases- Just by taking the pill.
Hippocrates would be amazed and mesmerized by our advances.
Hippocrates would wonder why physicians are ignoring the subjective, the history of present illness and not using their hands to touch patients.
Hippocrates would wonder how can an advanced civilization call themselves physicians when they don’t even touch patients.
Hippocrates would wonder how can in advance scientific culture not talk to patients, educate patients, assist patients, warned patients, support patients, be compassionate, loyal and charitable.
Hippocrates would call our healthcare systems barbaric.
Physicians should be the most prominent, respected, loyal humanitarians of society. Physicians are supposed to serve the public and protect the public’s health and well-being.
But somehow our honorable profession has sold us to Wall Street. We can all thank the AMA as a group.
The group mission of the AMA is not to the task of each physician. The individual physicians follow a strict code of honor which does no harm, follow the evidence, break no natural or humanitarian laws, and keep other doctors from doing so.
The power and influence of the AMA have corrupted the big picture leaving each and every individual physician as pawns. Once Wall Street gained a foothold into the AMA academics than essence designed a Ponzi scheme turning every American into 3/5 of a human being.
Most physicians are so fearful of raising their voice at the medical leaders and now the federal government that we choose to do nothing right.
You’re probably wondering who I am? A lowly family practice Dr. with no publications, no academic positions, no book, and no TV program?
Luckily because of all the above, I discovered a hidden teaching of Hippocrates which is a physical pain is treated with physical therapy.
I was brain training to think that physical pain required an MRI joint replacements and spinal fusions. No, it’s not. Is not logical are scientifically-based it was made up by some of our physician colleagues and soul to Wall Street and then to the federal government.
So the next time you refer a patient for any surgical procedure for physical pain, think again because you are setting them up to be cut up, handicapped or die ONLY for profits.
I am fairly sure it’s both racism and sexism and would be interested to hear if this has happened to any non-white male doctors, or the reverse, where nobody asked for credentials, or disbelieved them when they ID’d themselves as physicians, and allowed them to help with the care of the afflicted passengers.
I think we should also be calling out the airlines here. Because obviously there is something lacking in their training of flight staff if this is happening at all. It stuns me further because I’ve seen plenty of non white crew in my relatively limited flying experience.
Has happened to dark-skinned men too. Have heard accounts of such.
It would be my privilege to be cared for by any one of you. Thank you so much for volunteering your hard-earned skills. Thank you for sharing these stories. I’m proud to be part of a profession with you as members.
With much admiration,
Gretchen Vanderbeek, MD
Per Rose Gillin: I had an in-flight emergency on United Airlines several years ago from San Juan, PR to Chicago that went well. A man fainted and fell to the floor while waiting in line for the lavatory. I responded to the call for medical assistance and the flight attendants were helpful the whole time. I took his pulse and blood pressure, stayed with him until he recovered, helped him up slowly and made sure he was doing well. He was recovering from gastroenteritis and had not eaten or had much to drink for a couple of days prior to the trip. They let me decide if we needed to divert the flight (we didn’t) and were very appreciative. After we landed I was given the choice between a free ticket or some frequent flyer points. (I am a Puerto Rican woman and a family physician.)
P.S. I think both my experiences were on United. No problems there for me either.
Per Allan Kelley:
Hi, Pamela and Fellow Physicians!
I hope this will help.
The call goes out: is there a doctor on board? We had just left DFW for Seattle, and the attendants needed help with someone ill. I am an internist and spent YEARS moonlighting in ERs. I like helping. I punched the button.
As the attendants moved quickly about they ignored me. Finally I stopped one and said I could help. No. Stay put, we don’t need you. We will call you if we need you. A few minutes later I stood up to case out the situation from afar. An attendant said, “Sit down, please, we don’t need your help.”
Well, I thought. Surely I could help a litttle. I waited a bit, and as all the rushing about stopped I just got up and headed back to the bathrooms, right where the crisis was unfolding.
I stopped at the triage site. There were two care givers and two worried flight people. I observed the youngish patient with an O2 mask. Pale, diaphoretic. The tall attractive young male physician type sat next to him. There was a woman who turned out to be an experienced nurse standing in the row behind. I asked my colleagues, “Can I help? I am an internist.”
The Doctor type turned to me in relief. He was a first year Ophthamology resident and was unsure how to proceed. We changed places. I interviewed and quickly examined the patient. The problems were straightforward (but not without risk) and I encouraged the first officer to fly on and not divert. All ended well. The patient responded promptly.
I was 58 at the time, anglo/irish/french type. I was told repeatedly to sit down and I was not needed. But dealing directly with the colleagues who were called to help I was able to make a difference. I encourage my colleagues to volunteer and work patiently with the stressed out attendants, worried fellow passengers, and, as always, with our physician/nurse colleagues!
I helped out a passenger on a plane years ago. The staff did ask to see my medical license, which I carry in my wallet. I imagine that was for liability issues. The passenger told me he thought he was having a heart attack. He was diaphoretic, short of breath and having some (very) mild chest pain, but taking the history it turned out he was diabetic had taken his long-acting insulin and skipped breakfast. His wife who was there confirmed this. The staff gave him orange juice and food and he did fine. I was in my early-30’s at the time (and looked a good bit younger). Staff were very helpful and grateful. They did have the paramedics take him off the plane when we landed.
I have stopped multiple times to help people on the street, in restaurants, at MVA’s, etc. I haven’t had difficulties with people being bothered by it. A few years ago my 5 year old and I were walking into Costco and we saw a elderly woman down on the sidewalk with a couple of people around her. I went to help and my daughter watched. One of the people was an ER nurse visiting from the east coast and she was doing great so I let her take the lead and mostly held makeshift bandages in place because the woman had fallen on her face and there was a good bit of blood. The Costco staff were very polite to myself and the nurse, and they got my daughter a chair and a piece of pizza while we waited for the EMT’s to arrive and take her to the ED.
So my experiences with bystanders have been positive. Being white male helps I’m sure, though in all these cases I have been wearing jeans and a T-shirt or hoodie. Or maybe being a psychiatrist I am used to calming people who might otherwise be difficult :-).
It may help to remember that, unlike medical professionals, most people are not used to seeing people near death or dying. So in that situation they tend to freak out and when people freak out they are not thinking. It doesn’t matter if they are staff. They are out of their element and they run the latent programs in their heads, which may well contain cultural biases. I am willing to bet that a random person who looked like one of the actors on a popular show like Gray’s Anatomy or Scrubs (neither of which I have even seen) would get more trust from staff than a physician who looked like a real doctor. This would be an interesting social psych experiment.
Thank you ladies for standing up and sharing these stories.
Per Billie Grieve MD ~ Hi Pamela- I am a general surgeon. I was on a flight about a year ago, flying back from a course. A flight attendant pages over head for a doctor for a medical emergency. I looked back and a man had slumped over a few rows behind me. I started to stand up when another flight attendant stopped me in aisle and said another nurse was sitting beside the man. I said that I’m not a nurse, I’m a physician. She said, “Its all taken care of.” At this point, I could see that the man was alert, taking and looking chagrined. So, I didn’t push the issue.
Per Ann Secord MD:
This is ridiculous, huh? So much sexism. So here is my story. My husband and I were in a plane
with our 4 month old son who was in my lap. About an hour or so in to the flight a lady
a few rows behind us signals an attendant that she’s in excruciating pain from a blocked sinus.
She asks for medical assistance. We’re right ahead of her by like two rows so turn around to see
what the trouble is. So we introduce ourselves as BOTH doctors. My husband has no clue as to
what to do. I am a FLIGHT SURGEON! I try to get the attendant to even listen to me. I try to explain
to the patient about doing some salt water lavage. No one would listen to a word I said. They kept
directing questions to my husband who repeatedly said he didn’t know, because he wasn’t listening
to me either. I just turned around and sat back down and assumed my mothering role since
clearly a woman with a baby in her arms can’t possibly be the smartest one in the room.
Small potatoes in this current insanity where it seems nothing a woman says is believable but
it still rankles me and that baby will be 28 next month.
(Ann did not want to take away from the very real issue of racism that our sisters in medicine face though she is allowing me to post her story as a blog comment).
Sounds like the real issue here is a bunch of physicians with bruised egos.
Really? What about the nearly dead passengers? We’re talking about more than a bruise here Connor.
Bruised ego? We have one of the most selfless jobs on the planet. We sacrifice much without much in return. When I am finally afforded a chance to vacation and enjoy my family, my idea of fun is not having to “work” while on a flight. It’s not about an ego. It’s about having to wade through BS and after all that we have done to achieve what we have, to waste time trying to convince a Flight Attendant that we are qualified to help a person in need. Sometimes seconds can be the difference between life and death. So, Connor, don’t discount our experiences because you haven’t experienced it for yourself. And may you never be in need while an ignorant person stands between you and a egomaniac that could save your life
Your comment makes absolutely no sense. Would you please explain your reasoning?
It would be so much easier for medical professionals to NOT respond to requests for assistance because we are off the clock! Why would we want to work when we are on or own time? It is a love for others and a desire to actually help others that inspires us to respond to in flight emergencies and other emergencies. It really has nothing to do with ego!
Dr Ben Carson, in his book “Gifted Hands” (written well before his recent presidential run) talks about being mistaken for the janitor during his neurosurgical residency.
Oh really?? Hope you never need their help on a flight.
This is a discrimination issue based on implicit bias. As women, we are discriminated against. As Black women, it’s magnified. There is an assumption that we women couldn’t possibly be doctors and to a simple minded person, it would be impossible for a Black woman to be a Doctor. To give consideration that this is a gender issue, possibly an age issue, but, not a race issue, is disingenuous and dishonest. I believe an official letter needs to be sent to the FAA; it should explain that we don’t commonly carry credentials. Delta’s letter in reponse stated that they train their staff to ask for credentials and if not available, they have a series of questions they ask to confirm the person’s training. As if a flight attendant knows enough to be able to discern proper training. If I was trying to lose as a doctor I would say I trained at Harvard. Now what?! Quite frankly, any Good Samaritan with CPR training should be able to help. Secondly, they need to be consistent. If their policy is to request credentials, then it should be consistently asked of an older white gentleman as well. Additionally, they should be formally trained to refrain from making the types of comments like were made in Dr. Cross’ case. Lastly, we need to explain the hierarchy of knowledge and training. For example, on one flight, they were more willing to accept the help of a pharmacist than help from me!
I was on a Luftansa flight from Budapest to Munich. The call came over the loud speaker for help. As the flight steward and I headed down the aisle I asked if they had an AED on board. He told me I wasn’t a doctor so he could not give it to me. Turns out the passenger all of a sudden just fell over on to the aisle. A family member gave him Benadryl at the airport to relax him before the flight and he topped it off with a little wine. Luckily I speak Hungarian so was able to talk with him. He ended up OK and just slept through the flight. Later I asked the steward if he was trained in using the AED and since he could not give it to me would he have been prepared to use it. He told me he took a class and they have strict orders to only give it to a doctor with credentials. This was 2010 hopefully they have updated their policy. Someone’s life could depend on it
Please see the full account of Janelle Evan’s experience now published on KevinMD.
Per Joanne Holland MD:
I have helped ill people on a plane twice in my lifetime. Both times all went well. I did ask the stewardess both times if I could help, because I was a physician, before I stepped forward. Neither time was the patient real ill, but no one knew that at the time. In both cases I had medications with me that I used and in both cases it worked (In my purse I keep NGT, an epipen, an inhaler, simple stomach and cough meds with me as well as some herbals), and no other thing happened. In both cases the plane personnel washed their hands of the issue as soon as I stepped forward and in both cases the patients were able to accept me as their physician and did so. Later we all just said goodby. Maybe because I am an old grandmother type person, that is how it worked. No issues at all. I am not sure what would have happened if we had had a real heart attack or something on board. joanne
Per Kat Hurd MD
It has been 10 years, but yes, I did help with an in-flight emergency. I was flying with my 5 year old daughter from Seattle to Tokyo, when a gentleman who had gone to the restroom passed out on leaving it. They requested a physician, asked if I had medical ID, which I didn’t, and another gentleman who was a dermatologist deferred to me, though initially he was asked for help. A consulting (male) gastroenterologist who I knew was on the flight as well. They had equipment, I evaluated the patient who had an episode of bradycardia, had recently started a beta-blocker, and was stabilizing without any treatment. They even asked if we needed to land in Alaska, but as he seemed stable, that was not necessary. I advised him not to take the beta blocker until he consulted his provider on arrival. I’m 5’1″, 130 lbs, white female, and felt treated with deference and respect. When I got off the plane they gave me a large bottle of champagne which I was able to share with our Japanese hostess. I think I also got a small credit for future flight. Kat Hurd, MD
Carmelita V. San Pedro says: I have had my share of discrimination, be it related to race, gender, petite stature (5 feet, 99 lbs) or my way of speaking. The one place I have never felt such is up in the air. In my multiple travels all over the globe, with different airlines, I was never questioned when responding to an emergency ( 7 in almost 50 years of traveling). I always carry some form of emergency kit in my travels (mainly for personal and family use). Whenever I hear that call, ” is there a physician on board “, I immediately wake up, throw my stethoscope over my shoulder and grab my kit. ” Where is the emergency? “, then I follow the direction the fingers are pointing, and DO MY THING, either by myself or working with a team of other responding professionals ! Not even once was I asked for my credentials or educational background, until after the emergency when proper forms and incident reports have to be completed. Nobody has died on my watch up there. I have received a bottle of wine, complimentary airline points and showered with gratitude by appreciative pursers and crews . (always good to hear happy ever after stories)
Per Maha Coles Add me to the list. It was about 11 years ago. I was on a NW airlines flight back from Hawaii. I was there for a medical conference with my family. We were on our return flight waiting to deplane in Seattle. The woman in front of me passed out on my feet. Of course, the flight attendant closest to the woman asked if there was a doctor on board.
I told her she was looking at her. I had already started giving aid to the unconscious woman.
The flight attendant continued to ask if there was a doctor on board.
I again told her I was a doctor.
Unbelievably, She asked me if I had copy of my license! I did,in fact, have a miniature copy in my wallet and told her so.
She asked to see it. I looked at her incredulously, and asked “right now?” This was all going on while I was trying to give medical aid to the unconscious woman! I turned over my shoulder and looked at my husband and asked him to please show her the copy of my license. He knew I was livid. Then I turned back to the unconscious woman and ignored the flight attendant until the medics arrived. Fortunately, it ended well for the unconscious woman (no thanks to the flight attendant)
(Some of this just seems like timing. Like when a firefighter is in a house saving a child during a fire that is not to time to ask to see an updated license and registration with the state or whatever). OMG.
Why? Why? Two more examples:
Sandi Carter I was on a flight when they announced the need for medical assistance. So as a physician, my services were declined while those of a male PA were used.
Becky Wolfer Yep me too a male nurse was accepted over me a female thoracic/ genersl/ trauma / critical care surgeon
This is insane.
More than 30 years ago I was on a New Year’s day flight cross country, and there was an in-flight emergency.I too, waited to see if any more “typical doctor types” stood up, because I had just finished an all night shift on the delivery deck of USC. When the second call for a physician went out, I stood up and walked to the back of the plane. I was not asked to produce any credentials. I was a young white woman(still in residency) who was treated with respect, and my opinion was valued. I was allowed to evaluate the patient, but here was no good medical equipment like oxygen, thermometer, IV fluids, sphygmomanometer, or a stethoscope for me to use. The middle-aged, somewhat disheveled gentleman showed minimal respiratory symptoms, but was using anti-psychotic medications and appeared to have pneumonia. The pilot came to the back of the plane and asked if we needed to land in Texas instead of Atlanta. The gentleman did not appear emergently ill, so I made the decision to continue on to Atlanta. I did recommend a medical evaluation in Atlanta, so the patient was taken off the plane by medic once we landed in Atlanta. For the final leg of my flight from Atlanta, I was moved up to an open seat in first-class. I hope this helps.
Yours in Health and Shalom,
Pam Roberts, MD
How horrible these doctors were treated like that. Do the airlines only hire bigots? I know if I have to fly anywhere I will pray I don’t get sick.
I hope these Doctors sued the airlines, that’s the only way companies like this will change. BTW the majority of my Doctors are Women- phenomal, intelligent, caring women.
Another email I received (published with approval)
Hi, just a quick reply, I’ve responded to three plane calls for physicians over the last 8y or so, I’m white, and speak with some obstinance often, so I haven’t had NEARLY the problems female doctors of color face, but the little bits of disrespect I am fully used to.
The one I remember most clearly was a flight from LA to KC or STL, that I argued for them to return to LA about 30 minutes after takeoff. A woman was coming down the aisle and I saw her lose consciousness (I had an aisle seat), she came to, was helped up, then her eyes rolled back and she collapsed again, and the flight attendants called for a physician when they couldn’t rouse her a few moments later. A male non-white physician (but he actually had his stethoscope handy) responded at the same time, and the flight attendants clearly preferred talking to him, but when the lady was awake again, I told him I was Internal Medicine, and he deferred to me and went to sit down saying he was FP and thought I could deal with it. The problem was, she kept going in and out of coherence, despite her pulse being normal and heart and lung exam being normal, and after lying nearly supine, and having some juice in case her blood sugar was low. When she was most coherent she said she was fine, had no pain in head or chest/jaw/arm or abdomen, and agreed with her husband that she’d had a treadmill stress test the week before that was normal, so there couldn’t be anything wrong with her… before she passed out again while being partly sitting up. She came to again a few seconds later when we stretched her more flat across the three seats. I wasn’t aware a blood pressure cuff and blood sugar testing should have been available since the flight attendants didn’t offer anything, and it was the first time that had happened for me. I was concerned, given her age (70s), that she may be having a painless CVA or MI or another serious problem, and there was no way for me to even triage her properly without bloodwork or more monitoring available. So several times during her going in and out, I told the flight attendants she couldn’t wait the 3+hours to get to a hospital in the midwest, and if she was my grandmother I’d want her to be in the 90 minute window for intervention in case it was necessary— despite her protests, despite her husband’s insistence that she was fine (even though it hadn’t happened before)… but the flight attendants kept asking me if I was sure, if it was truly necessary… finally I was firm enough that they turned the plane around, announced it, and the plane was silent. Everyone was frustrated or angry with me. When the EMTs showed up, they took my license number and name, but completely ignored my attempts to give them information on what happened, and only spoke to the husband and main flight attendant who’d been nearest… It was clear I was doing something that was ruining everyone’s day, and no one thanked me. I never found out what happened to that lady, but I still know I did the right thing, and we all got to our destination an hour or two late, but safely, and she got to a hospital within the 90 minute window in case she indeed was having a major event of some kind.
I know that I’m 5’3,” small and a little younger looking than usual, and I’ve been confused for a nurse or housekeeper or hospital visitor by patients, doctors, and nurses alike before, so it didn’t seem weird to me to be treated without much respect. But the older I get, and the harder it is to even find work that allows me to practice good medicine, the less tolerance I have for hearing stories like Dr Cross’.
Thank you Dr Wible. This is infuriating that female physicians are held to a different standard than men, and the blatant bias and racism shown to the physicians is appalling. Flight attendants have way to much authority in the sky and should be held accountable for this behavior.
Flight attendants have been placed in an odd situation. It appears that they are to choose who cares for an ailing passenger without the level of discernment required. Seems to me that the medical team aboard should assemble themselves or at least have some input into who would be best suited to care for the patient.
UNACCEPTABLE AND A REAL SHAME
I am not a doctor or medical professional, but am totally shocked reading this article – the lack of respect, blatant discrimination (colour and gender) and dismissiveness against female physicians, on aircraft flights or any other similar situations, exposing irresponsible, separative and archaic behaviour.
As an Emergency physician I am interested to know why Dr Cross, an OB/GYN was so keen to attend a male patient, especially when other physicians were available.
I have been called on flights a number of times. Strangely it was much more common in the seventies and eighties, I don’t know why it is so much less common nowadays. On average there were six physicians who came forward when called on a 747. I am a male physician but I have a male colleague(an OB/GYN) who in the old days when doctors were identified on airlines would always refuse to attend to males unless there was really no one else.
PEOPLE. Do what I do when I fly. as soon as we can, I put on my light and inform the flight attendant that I am a Registered Nurse and to please let me know if you need help. Fortunately I have never been asked but they always thank me for letting them know. IDENTIFY YOURSELVES BEFORE THERE IS AN EMERGENCY.
I was in Granby Quebec Canada mid September 2017 and responded to a cardiac arrest where all were speaking French including the AED. I was 1st to respond to the motel room, 3 away from mine, in my nightgown and no one questioned my credentials when I said Je suis un garde malade. The wife said I was her angel and when she realized I was a nurse (40 years in emergency) it was like a rock off her chest. That’s how it should work. Unfortunately, this 53 year old did not survive despite good cbr and multiple defibrillation by me before EMS. On flights I do carry a copy of my RNC license.
Thank you Pam for all you do—and for being prepared.
I am an FP, with lots of time in our little local hospital ER. Recently in a local store, heard a thunk, and someone call for help. ID’d myself as a doctor, and pretty much got shoved out of the way while first responders crowded around a middle aged man who appeared post-ictal and had a large head lac where he contacted a shelf on his way down. There was lots of hand wringing. I finally had to just push my way in to do rescue breaths, as his relaxed airway was occluded and he was purple. One of the first responders started chest compressions, although I told her he had a pulse. A few breaths and keeping his airway open was all he needed. The medic who arrived with the ambulance totally ignored me when I tried to give him some details. Whatever…..I just walked away.
While my situations don’t involve a flight, as a female doctor, this entire post resonates with me. For example, as a hospitalist, I often have to respond to codes or rapid responses, at which time the nurse manager on call also arrives to bedside. A particular (female) nurse manager bullies, laughs, whispers, talks loudly over me, rolls her eyes, questions everything I say, and leave the nurses confused about what they should do. I am a good doctor, who has dealt with hundreds of codes, and can work quickly and efficiently using ACLS guidelines, while also thinking intuitively about and addressing what may be the cause of the patient’s decompensation. I do not believe at all that this nurse manager would behave with such mockery contempt, if I were a male physician. Situations like this feel extremely isolating.
This is ludicrous! I hope that the staff who asked for credentials changed their perspective after their experiences – doctors come in all genders, races, ages, etc. There is no room for discrimination or asking for credentials when someone is in distress. This could be life or death and an airplane is a pretty vulnerable place to be in such a circumstance. I would take all the help I could get!
A person who isn’t a doctor wants to stop a doctor from doing emergency work. Shameful nonsense! God help us!
Seems the airlines employ uneducated white trash as cabin staff.Must be hard to do a job with one weeks training.
Time for people to start suing the staff and airline into the gutter. Also record all your interactions with these mindless rednecks.
I DID LEAVE A COMMENT, AT 79, MY SKILLS R NOT THAT GOOD ON COMPUTER, SO HOPE U CAN READ MY PRIOR MESSAGE. I WOULD LIKE TO B HELPFUL IF DRS NEED SOMEONE TO TALK TO. JUST SIGNED UP TO BE A TALK LINE HELPER 4BUSOM BUDDIES, CANCER GROUP, DID TALKLINE 4 PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT…AFTER GOING ALMOST 2 YEARS W/NO VOICE UNTIL SPEACH THERAPY…THEY FELT STRESS WAS THE CAUSE. WOULD LIKE TO BE A LISTENING EAR FOR FEMALE DRS WHO JUST WANT TO TALK W/OUT HAVING TO IDENTIFY IS THEY DON’T WANT. I HAVE A MASTER’S N COUNSELING??? U CAN EVEN WRITE ME BY E MAIL BUT I AM BETTER ON TEXT? My ONLY WEB SITE IS W/AVON NEW REPR
Absolutely disgusting treatment of medical professionals !