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Delta Air Lines

“You’re Not Really an MD, Are You?” Black Doctor Accuses Delta of Racial Bias

“You’re Not Really an MD, Are You?” Black Doctor Accuses Delta of Racial Bias
Sharon Hsu

In 2016, the case of Dr. Tamika Cross, a black female physician whose credentials were questioned by Delta flight attendants during an in-flight medical emergency, led to the airline initiating inclusion training and policy change. This week, another black female doctor says the same thing happened to her.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford was on an uneventful Delta flight on Tuesday night when she noticed that the passenger sitting next to her appeared to have fallen ill, presenting with shakes and hyperventilation. Stanford, a black female doctor who teaches at Harvard Medical School and practices medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, flagged down a flight attendant and presented her medical license, offering to assist her seatmate.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that instead of granting permission, the flight attendant asked another colleague to double check Stanford’s license. Stanford reports that the second flight attendant then said to her, “You’re not really a doctor, you’re just a head doctor…. You’re not really an MD, are you?”

If this story sounds familiar, it might be because another black female physician was questioned about her credentials on a Delta flight two years ago. Dr. Tamika Cross alleged that the airline had shown racial bias after flight attendants refused her help in a medical emergency, turning to a white male doctor instead. The incident drew national attention, with other physicians of color and white female physicians sharing their stories of experiencing bias via the viral hashtag #whatdoesadoctorlooklike, and led to Delta instituting a policy change wherein their flight attendants are no longer required to request proof of credentials from medical professionals who can assist in an emergency.


Stanford felt a strange sense of dĂ©jĂ  vu as well; she had attended a conference on medical bias just two weeks prior to her flight, where Cross was the keynote speaker. In fact, Stanford says, after hearing Cross’s story, “I began to make sure that I was always equipped with my license.” She adds that she was disappointed that “my value and worth in that situation was questioned” while attempting to assist a fellow passenger.

When asked for comment, Delta issued the following statement: “We thank Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred.”

View Comments (16)


  1. vj_rama

    November 11, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Couple of thoughts on this as a practicing MD.

    First of all, who carries around their “medical license”? We all have state medical licenses, which are usually certificates on paper, but I certainly don’t carry around a copy of it in my wallet. Maybe she carries her ID badge from the hospital? If I’m flying somewhere and someone wanted proof that I’m an MD, I would definitely be out of luck.

    Second, people who list every degree they’ve earned, including fellowships, after their name tend to be very sensitive about their titles. I am sure she insists on being addressed as Dr. in public as well.

    That said, it’s really sad that we still have so far to go in our country regarding racial and gender bias.

  2. QT31415

    November 11, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    The only time an airline has accepted my assistance has been when my spouse, a white non-medical male, has told staff that I’m a physician. Otherwise its the usual, “thanks, we’ve got it covered”. The last time they “had it covered”, a (caucasian) physical therapist did an assessment and had the plane land, after which the passenger refused to deplane because she felt better.

  3. skidooman

    November 11, 2018 at 11:06 pm

    The doctor wants to help, the passenger needs help, and the only thing the flight attendants do is to doubt her credentials?

    I am shaking my head in disbelief. Guys, this is 2018, not 1918!

  4. flying_geek

    November 12, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    I am not sure why everything is always automatically assumed to be racially motivated. I have several black friends who sadly have experienced very real discrimination. But not everything that happens has to do with skin color. I have been repeatedly questioned why I am standing in an (international) first class line in old jeans and t-shirt. Yeah, I was young and didn’t have to dress to impress – and maybe it was my age, maybe it was my clothes – also happened in China where I didn’t meet the racial default…

    So someone questioned an individual if they really were a medical professional – that medical professional happened to be black. If the Dr had been white – the whole story would have been a non-story. So is whoever is reporting this discriminating? Is the reader? On a side note, if I was in a medical emergency and someone asked the physician if he actually was one, I think that’s good. White, brown, black or space alien.

    I really don’t have the answer, but crying “foul” all the time is not always helping either.

  5. chavala

    November 13, 2018 at 7:12 am

    To above: It wasn’t just because she’s black, she’s also a woman, So double whammy for her. Of course they’re gonna pic an old white guy over her because that’s the way our sick world works, especially in America.

  6. oktoberfest

    November 13, 2018 at 8:58 am

    The airlines should ask for proof of every “doctor” that wants to help. Now that they’ve said they won’t ask for proof, any nut job who wants to inject themselves into a situation can just say they are a doctor and cause the death of an ill person or have a plane make an emergency landing when there might not have been a need. They are opening themselves up for huge lawsuits.

  7. pmiranda

    November 13, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    I can understand them asking for her credentials, but once presented, WTF!?
    I normally avoid Delta like the plague for totally mundane reasons like terrible service in my personal experience, but I really expect better from an airline that calls Atlanta a hub.

  8. KimchiExpress

    November 13, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    Anyone who doesn’t think this type of treatment happens on a daily basis to non-whites and women are morons.

    Yes, on occasion, there might be a misunderstanding. But, as with anything, that is the exception – not the rule.

    Gosh, just look how the President of the United States was treated. Some senators even made public statements about how they are going to treat him.

    I am not sure why, but all of our doctors are women. And gender wasn’t a factor in our choice.

  9. arvi123

    November 14, 2018 at 5:36 am

    Delta is one of the worst airlines out thee. Their staff is rude beyond belief. I am not surprised by their treatment. The rot starts at the top. Poor management capabilities mean poor employees.

  10. e30st

    November 14, 2018 at 6:19 am

    I am a white male.
    I was traveling SYD-LHR on QF last week. There was an announcement mid-flight, seeking for a doctor. I immediately reported myself to a crew member, who guided me to the rear of the plane, where the passenger with medical needs were located. I am young (age 24) I’ve just finished 6-year medical university earlier this year. 3 different flight attendants asked, if I am really a doctor, also the patient’s husband asked me in quite a rude style if I am really a licensed doctor. And a middle-aged (also white, also male (deal with it)) doctor arrived seconds later, and all of them turned towards him, and referred the case to him, and one of the flight attendants told me I can return to my seat now.
    It felt a little bit humiliating and unfair. In fact, beside university I worked a lot as a paramedic, so I have plenty of experience about prehospital emergency care. So i was a bit sad, because they didn’t need my help, just because I look too young, to be taken seriously.
    But do i go on twitter, complaining? Or starting a hashtag-movement? No way. Life goes on. This doesn’t define me, I am still a doctor, I know I could save lives in situations like this, no matter what those flight attendants were think about me.
    These two black ladies must have a deep inferiority complex, if they take it that seriously. You don’t have to be black or female for someone to question your competence. It happens to every single person in every possible field. Wise people don’t make a big deal out if it.

  11. slsdi

    November 14, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Geez, a couple of comments on here leave me shaking my head, too. First, she started carrying her license after hearing the experiences of others’ having their credentials doubted, not because she is a braggart or insecure (we don’t know anything about that one way or the other but why jump to that conclusion?). Secondly, there really is no explanation of having her credentials doubted *after* she has shown them — that truly defies logic. It’s one thing to have been asked about them a first time, but to have them doubted and checked again… which is why many can’t help but think it has something to do with race and gender. Ironically, the commenter who doubts a racial/gender motivation remembers being questioned in a first class line probably because of his *appearance*!!!

  12. arcticflier

    November 14, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    I am confident there is another side to this story that we are not hearing. The fact she just attended a seninar on this two weeks previous suggests to me she might have become overly sensitive and made something of nothing.

    Doesn’t Delta run a risk of negligence if they just allow any PAX who claims to be a doctor begin physically contacting another PAX?

    I, for one, am happy that Delta is screening.

  13. FullFare

    November 15, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Well, this is for VJ_RAMA who asked “who carries their medical license” and others who made light of this issue. The state of California, where I have practiced as a critical care specialist for over 40 years, issues “wallet cards” to all its physicians. They are the size of a credit card and easily readable to show that the bearer has a medical license.

    They are exactly designed for situations like this. On better careers than Delta, I have been requested on numerous emergent situations to show that I am a physician (I have no problem with it and think it’s a good idea) and always produce my wallet plastic card and have always had it acknowledged.

    But then, I’m white and a male, and am probably old enough to look like a doctor with (gulp) probably some experience.

    At any rate, many other states issue those cards (I have a Nevada license, too, that issues cards of similar size) and they serve a good purpose.

    Delta Airlines and all the uneducated posters who don’t know about this would be well served to simply accept this educative stimulant to their world.

    In some of this cases, it is simple racism with or without misogyny. Delta Airlines has a problem and should come out of denial about its racist employees. It would help.

  14. rosege

    November 16, 2018 at 2:36 am

    @e30st should have asked them if they’d ever heard of Doogie Howser

  15. mvoight

    November 19, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Dear Flight Attendant…
    Even if she had been a “head doctor” (aka psychiatrist), she is still a medical doctor.
    Psychiatrists go to medical school

  16. dbhdbh

    November 20, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I keep my medical license in my wallet. Carry them with me everywhere.

    Fascinating that this happened AFTER Delta announced that they would no longer demand proof of credentials. I suppose a black female doctor was just too improbable for the flight attendants to believe.

    It is not just black women. I have a white female colleague whom the flight attendants tried to prevent treating a patient who was coding. She was able to brow beat them into bringing out the defibrillator but got more static when he wanted them to open the meds. She is a very forceful person (chair of a major department at a major medical school. Not a kid Not the retiring type).

    She won, the patient lived.

    Would have made for an interesting lawsuit if their obstruction had lead to a death.

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