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Dr. Ashley Denmark, D.O. (Facebook)


2 black women doctors prevented from treating ill patients aboard plane

By WITW Staff on October 17, 2016

Within the last week, two African American women doctors have come forward with startling stories of having had their credentials as physicians doubted by Delta flight staff during separate in-flight medical crises.

On Saturday, in a blog post titled “Discrimination 30,000 Feet Above,” Ashley Denmark, a family physician from South Carolina, described a recent experience aboard a Hawaii-bound flight during which crew members announced a passenger had become ill and asked if any doctors were on board. Denmark got out of her 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?’” she wrote in the post. “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.’” Denmark says she even presented her hospital work ID as proof that she is a doctor, but was told by a flight attendant that two nurses had offered to help. “We have two nurses here who came first,” Denmark recalled being told. “You can have a seat now and we will let them handle it. If we need more help we will come and find you.” Bewildered, Denmark returned to her seat next to her husband. “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.”

Denmark goes on in the blog post to detail how she’s often mistaken for being “an assistant, janitor, secretary, nurse, student, etc., even when I have my white coat on.” She points out that even though American society appears to have progressed regarding racial equality, in many cases our culture is tripped up by trappings of the past. “This incident with Delta Airlines just shines the light on how often times African American doctors and other professionals like myself endure discrimination,” Denmark wrote.

Last week I flew Delta Airlines flight 2215 and I was not allowed to provide medical care to a passenger in need despite…

Posted by Ashley Denmark on Saturday, October 15, 2016

Her experience comes on the heels of another doctor who revealed a similar experience on a recent Delta flight. Dr. Tamika Cross, a 28-year-old black OB-GYN at a hospital in Houston, took to Facebook and described flight attendants doubting her credentials as a physician when she raised her hand to offer help to an ill passenger. “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,’” Cross wrote in her Facebook post.

Dr. Tamika Cross Credit Dwight Andrews/McGovern Medical School at UTHealth
Dr. Tamika Cross Credit Dwight Andrews/McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

Cross’s post went viral and now has more than 21,000 comments as a discussion of race in the professional world. Her story had an impact on Twitter as well, causing the #whatadoctorlookslike hashtag to trend. On Friday, Delta announced it was investigating the incident.

In an interview with The New York Times, Cross described a history of being doubted, similar to what Denmark discussed in her blog post. “I think minorities in general, especially in my field of practice — I feel that they are always questioned and always assumed to be the nurse or the nurse’s aide or here as part of the janitorial team or ancillary staff,” Cross told the Times. “Several times I come in the room, I am assumed to be one of the ancillary staff.”

Read the full story at Refinery 29 and The New York Times.