Black women combat stereotypes with hashtag #WhatADoctorLooksLike

Find the problem: You are on a flight and you, or a loved one, need medical assistance and it just so happens that a (perfectly) qualified female doctor of color offers her assistance and expertise. Hurray! Not so fast. A flight attendant denies the female physicians services, because she simply doesn’t have the “look” of a doctor. Just your luck.

Have you spotted the issue? I count several.

Onboard a plane headed to Minneapolis from Detroit, Dr. Tamika Cross, experienced one of the many circumstances that unveils the blatant disrespect corporate America working women of color constantly face.

Cross,28, whom is in her residency at McGovern Medical School in Texas, was told repeatedly by a Delta Airlines flight attendant that she could not help a man who needed immediate medical assistance–just two rows in front of her– because she did not appear to be qualified. Needless to say, Cross was outraged.

Being that we live in a digital age, Cross naturally took to Facebook to divulge her frustration after the incident occurred.

She explained that when she heard someone in front of her screaming for help “she naturally jumped into doctor mode.” When she unbuckled her seatbelt and attempted to get up, the flight attendant urged everyone to “stay calm” because the man was just experiencing a night terror.

However, Cross wrote that she felt something wasn’t right, so she monitored the situation closely. Just a few minutes later, the man was unresponsive again and the flight attend yelled “call overhead for a physician onboard.”

“I raised my hand to grab her attention,” Cross said. “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.” I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.”

Cross wrote that when they called overhead for any physician on board to press their red buttons, she stared at the flight attendant and proceeded to press her red button. Despite the mans need for immediate medical care, Cross said that the flight attendant came back to her and said: “oh wow you’re an actual physician?” The flight attendant then proceeded to ask for Cross’ credentials, and followed up her line of questioning with a few more questions: What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?

Cross, who earned her M.D. from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, explained that she is in fact an OBGYN who works in Houston and was in Detroit for a wedding.

Moments later, another (white male) physician approaches them and says that he is a physician as well. The flight attendant then informs Cross that she appreciates her help but the male physician can help, because “he has his credentials”. But, Cross says that she never saw the other physician show the flight attendant any proof of his credentials.

Cross stated:

“At this point, my mind was blown and my blood was boiling,” Dr. Cross said. “Still obviously concerned, I look over and see the passenger is responding to questions, and is responsive. Several minutes into the physician interviewing the patient, the flight attendant continued to come back to me requesting for additional help/pointers. I continued to help despite the blatant disrespect, because my calling is being a physician.”

Little did Delta Airlines know, black girl magic runs deep. 

Soon after Cross’ story hit the internet, thousands of social media users banded together to raise awareness of the incident. Many doctors and physicians took to Twitter to school Delta Airlines on the multifaceted “look” of a doctor using the hashtag #WhatADoctorLooksLike.

Incidents like these cause many minority women, who practice or are studying medicine, to question whether their race or gender can potentially hinder them from being respected as a practitioner of their field.

First year University of Florida Medical Student Ashley Gordon, 21, said that she believes the hashtag was a great start to spreading awareness about the issue. “The incident is upsetting, yet not surprising,” Gordon said. “There are patients who will refuse service from a doctor strictly based on race, religion, gender, or different trivial factors. I hope by the time I’m practicing there will be improvements but I think it will take longer than that.”

According to Ebony, Delta Airlines released a statement explaining that they are thoroughly investigating the situation:

“The experience Dr. Cross has described is not reflective of Delta’s culture or of the values our employees live out every day. We are in the process of conducting a full investigation. We’ve reached out to Dr. Cross to speak with her directly, talked with our crew members and we’re reaching out to customers who were on board to gather as much information as we can.”


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