Barely a day after Delta began investigating whether a flight crew member discriminatorily declined on-board care from Dr. Tamika Cross because she's Black, another doctor of color has reported a similar incident with the airline.
Resident family physician Dr. Ashley Denmark says that during Delta flight 2215 from Seattle to Hawaii, she responded to a flight crew intercom request for medical assistance. But when she approached the flight attendants and offered her services, Dr. Denmark says her medical credentials were doubted and she was repeatedly rebuffed.
"I was greeted by two Caucasian women and a [Delta] flight attendant," Denmark recounted in a post on Melanin in Medicine, a blog about the experiences of doctors of color. "I quickly asked 'What’s going on?' Then, I stated, 'I’m a doctor. How can I help?'"
Ultimately, Denmark couldn't help at all, despite showing her hospital badge as proof of her medical credentials. As she describes it, the Delta flight attendant instead opted for two white nurses to assist and asked Dr. Denmark to return to her seat, flouting medical protocol of deferring to doctors, not nurses, for making healthcare decisions.
"As an African-American female physician, I am too familiar with this scenario," Denmark wrote. "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."
The same brand of racial microaggression that fuels people's disbelief that women of color are doctors also informs how Dr. Denmark says she's been trained to respond gracefully to discrimination, or else risk being framed as being too "hostile."
African-American women comprise less than 2% of the nation's physician population. Myiesha Taylor writes at The Guardian that glossing over this all-too-common form of discrimination hurts the chances of attracting more sorely needed women of color to medicine. In other words, these recent airborne incidents aren't just potentially bad for business, they're possibly unhealthy for the public at large.
"To solve this problem will require a willingness by all Americans to discard their preconceived stereotypes and biases," Taylor wrote. That goes for on the ground and at 30,000 feet alike.