Doctor says she was racially profiled while trying to help passenger on flight out of Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CNN) – A doctor said she was racially profiled by two flight attendants as she aided a fellow passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a physician and expert in obesity medicine, told CNN she was on a flight from Indianapolis to Boston on Tuesday when a woman sitting next to her started shaking and hyperventilating.

Stanford said she was already aiding the passenger when a flight attendant came by to check the situation. According to Stanford, the flight attendant asked if she was a doctor, to which Stanford replied yes.

Stanford said she continued to stabilize the passenger when a second flight attendant came to ask for her medical license. Stanford showed the flight attendant her license. Stanford said that shortly afterward both flight attendants came back and questioned her credentials and asked if the medical license she was carrying belonged to her.

Stanford described the exchange as “bewildering.”

“The validity of me as a physician is being called into question,” Stanford said of the experience.

Stanford said she was able to continue looking after the sick passenger. She later decided to share what happened on social media.

“I am very disappointed that your policies on #Diversity have not lead to any change. As a #blackwoman #doctor who showed my #medical license to help a passenger on DL5935 your #flightattendant still did not believe I was a #Physician,” Stanford tweeted at Delta.

In a second tweet, Stanford, who works at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, wrote that her accomplishments do not “shield from racism.”

Delta responded to Stanford the next day via social media and later in an email and a phone call.

“I am so sorry for your frustration Dr. Stanford. Please know that Delta does not condone discrimination for any reason and we take your comments very seriously. We are looking into further and will be reaching out to you directly,” Delta tweeted.

Stanford said an executive assistant called her and told her the company is looking at the incident and will follow up with her.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black confirmed the airline reached out to Stanford as part of an investigation. Black said in a statement that, according to the flight crew’s account, the flight attendants “initially misread the credentials offered by the doctor and went to reconfirm her specific medical discipline.”

“We are following up with the crew to ensure proper policy is followed. Dr. Stanford’s care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue,” Black added.

Stanford said she felt “very unsatisfied” by Delta’s response.

Stanford’s disclosure prompted other doctors to share their own stories about navigating bias as women of color.

The debate is not new. In 2016, Dr. Tamika Cross, an OB-GYN who is black, wrote in a Facebook post that she was discriminated against on a Delta flight when attendants refused to let her help a man that was unresponsive. Cross’ post went viral, along with the hashtag #whatadoctorlookslike

After learning what happened to her colleague and friend, Cross took to Facebook again on Wednesday and posed the question “Where have we come since 2016?”

Delta said in December 2016 that it reviewed and revised its process for accepting a medical professional’s help during in-flight medical emergencies. In the announcement, the airline said Cross was part of the conversation that resulted in the company doing away with a policy that required flight attendants to verify medical credentials.

“They can now secure a medical professional’s help based on the volunteer’s statement that he or she is a physician, physician assistant, nurse, paramedic or EMT,” the airline said then.

Stanford said she recently attended a conference organized by the Massachusetts Medical Society on the topic of gender and bias in medicine. Cross was the keynote speaker.

Stanford said her own experience and those of her peers have emphasized for her the importance of having “more people that look like me” in the medical field.

“I know that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Stanford said.

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