Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, who practices medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School, said she continued having issues with proving her medical expertise even after she showed the on-board crew her medical license.
It all happened on a Republic Airlines Lines flight, a connection carrier for Delta, Tuesday night when a passenger next to Stanford fell ill.
"Lots of shaking, hyperventilation," Stanford said.
Without being asked, Stanford said she presented her medical license to a flight attendant so she could provide the passenger medical assistance.
"She looked at it, walked down to the back of the plane, and then the second flight attendant approached me and said, 'Well, can I see your license again?' [and] I said, 'Absolutely,'" Stanford said.
As Stanford worked to calm the panic-stricken passenger, she said the second flight attendant asked for a clarification.
"[She said,] 'I just talked with the first flight attendant, and she said you're not really a doctor, you're just a head doctor,' [and] I said, 'Excuse me? What do you mean by that?' [To which she replied,] 'Oh, so you're not really an MD, are you?'" Stanford said.
Coincidentally, Stanford had just attended a conference on medical bias two weeks ago at which she interviewed another doctor who had a similar experience aboard another Delta flight.
In that incident, a licensed doctor – also a black woman – charged that flight attendants turned away her offer to help a sick passenger in favor of a white male doctor.
"At that time, she did not actually have her credentials on her, and that's when I began to make sure that I was always equipped with my license," Stanford said.
And yet, even with her medical license in hand, Stanford's qualifications were still questioned more than once, she said.
That prior incident prompted Delta to no longer require flight attendants to ask for medical credentials for offers of medical assistance.
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"It was quite disconcerting that here I was trying to help a fellow passenger who happened to be seated directly next to me, and my value and worth in that situation was questioned," Stanford said.
A Delta Air Lines representative issued a statement to WFXT, saying, in part: "We thank Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred."
He mentioned that flight attendants have to be mindful that those offering to help in a medical emergency should be capable of doing so.