Reports of how a Delta attendant spoke to Tamika Cross, a black physician offering help, dont strike me as unusual
Being a doctor can bring many challenges each day. For women physicians of color, though, there is a special set of challenges that are seldom discussed or acknowledged in our profession or by greater society until they come spilling into the limelight in a dramatic way. That is what happened on Friday.
People across the country were horrified to hear of the way Tamika Cross, a doctor, was treated on a recent Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Houston. A patient faced a medical emergency mid-flight and the crew asked if there were any physicians on board. Cross immediately signaled to the crew that she was available to help. But according to reports, the flight crew didnt respond as you might think. They werent grateful. Instead, they doubted whether this young African American woman could actually be a medical doctor. They declined her help.
For Deltas part, they issued a statement saying they were troubled by any accusations of discrimination and take them very seriously. The experience Dr Cross has described is not reflective of Deltas culture or of the values our employees live out every day. Yet social media platforms have been flooded with dismay that the Delta Airlines flight crew reportedly responded in such an overtly biased way to Cross. How could anyone treat a physician like this during a medical crisis?
Although female physicians of color in the United States are rightfully furious by this reported act of bias, this incident is far from isolated. Generations of female physicians of color can all share similar stories where they have been openly challenged. Everyday a physician similar to Cross goes to work and faces individuals who are truly shocked and unable to accept that the woman before them is a doctor. Their experiences go largely unrecorded and unacknowledged because they have never had the media attention that the Delta Airlines incident attracted.
These controversies also touch on deeper concerns surrounding communities of color and healthcare. We face a different health reality than other populations within the United States. We face greater rates of disease, disability and early death compared with other populations. As an example, African American women are less likely to get breast cancer but far more likely to die from it. And African American female physicians make up less than 2% of the physician workforce in the United States.
Although our numbers are growing, we are nowhere near reaching the numbers necessary to ensure the diverse physician workforce that the rapidly diversifying population of the United States requires. This lack of diversity continues to hurt the quality of care historically underserved and underrepresented communities receive. Incidents such as this one can have a chilling effect on recruiting the next generation of diverse physicians we need.
This moment of outrage will help shine a light on this problem but it will be too brief. People will share their disgust on Facebook and Twitter but that alone is not enough to solve the issue. The way in which the Delta Airlines flight crew quickly dismissed Crosss qualifications demonstrated how deep-rooted issues of race and gender are embedded in our national consciousness. To solve this problem will require a willingness by all Americans to discard their preconceived stereotypes and biases. We need to collectively embrace Cross and her sisters in medicine as the well-trained, qualified and compassionate physicians that we are.
Old and bitter racial and gender stereotypes continue to exist and flourish in America today. We wish that Crosss experience with the Delta Airlines flight crew were out of the norm and not representative of our collective experience but it isnt. We are outraged by what happened to Cross, we expect justice for her. We will not be deterred from our calling in life: to serve our patients just as the trailblazing female physicians of color who came before us did.