Black Doctor Says Delta Flight Attendant Rejected Her; Sought ‘Actual Physician’

The New York Times
By Christine Hauser

Dr. Tamika Cross, a black physician at the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston, could not immediately come to the phone on Friday. She was busy delivering a baby boy by C-section.

So, yes, in case anyone has any doubt, Dr. Cross is an “actual physician.”

But the 28-year-old doctor said that was the question hanging in the air, raised by a flight attendant, when she volunteered to treat a sick passenger on a Delta flight from Detroit to Minneapolis on Sunday.

Dr. Cross wrote about the episode in a Facebook post later that day, saying she had put her hand up to help, but was met with the kind of skepticism she had encountered before as a black doctor. A flight attendant demanded her “credentials” and confirmation that she was a real physician.

“She said to me: ‘Oh no, sweetie put ur 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.’ ”

Dr. Cross wrote, “I’m sure many of my fellow young, corporate America working women of color can all understand my frustration when I say I’m sick of being disrespected.”

By Friday, Dr. Cross’s story had been shared more than 38,000 times and had attracted more than 14,000 comments, transforming her Facebook page into a forum where minority professionals reflected on the difficulties they face from people who doubt their qualifications or abilities.

It was also shared widely on Twitter under the hashtags #TamikaCross and #WhatDoctorsLookLike to highlight offensive assumptions about diversity in the medical field.

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Reached by telephone between surgeries on Friday, Dr. Cross said that it was not the first time she had encountered assumptions that as a black woman, she could not be a doctor, and that she has heard similar stories from colleagues.

“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,” she said. “Several times I come in the room, I am assumed to be one of the ancillary staff.”

Some of the conversations spurred by Dr. Cross’s Facebook post centered on what researchers call implicit bias, or unconscious processing about race. According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias can affect the decisions jurors make in courts, the assumptions by law enforcement officials about minorities and the relationships between students and teachers, and doctors and patients.

In its 2016 report, the institute highlighted how people with a “black-sounding name” had a lower response rate when trying to get help for public services.

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The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity was established in 2003 as a center for interdisciplinary research at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have opportunity to succeed.