Don’t raise your eyebrows. Raise your expectations.
By now I am sure you have heard the story of Dr. Tamika Cross’s experience while on a recent Delta flight in which a passenger was screaming for help two rows in front of her. Her husband had become unconscious. Dr.Cross, who is a black female physician, immediately offered assistance. However, she was dismissed by the Delta flight attendant who stated they were looking for “actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel.” The flight attendant continued to make a call for a physician on board. After Dr. Cross identified herself as a physician, she was met with a barrage of questions questioning her credentials and asking for proof of such credentials. When a white male approached stating he was a physician, he was allowed to assist the patient without such questions or showing proof of his credentials. This set off outage on social media and particular outrage among black female doctors. Black female doctors make up only 2% of the physician work force but it is a powerful one. Thanks to Dr. LS Emory the hashtag #WhataDoctorLooksLike was born. It not only showed the remarkable diversity of black female doctors but also called on Delta to address the discrimination exhibited on this flight. They have responded although not to the satisfaction of most. I decided to call on black female doctors in my Facebook travel group to share their in-flight experiences and offer sound travel advice. Get ready to be amazed and inspired because I certainly was! These women are experts in every field of medicine and even with busy careers still find time to travel the world! I posed these 5 questions to them:
1) Where you are from/current location?
2) What type of Medicine do you practice?
3) Name your top 3 travel destinations.
4) Provide travel tips for a long flight.
5) Have you provided medical assistance on a flight and if so what happened?
1) Detroit, Michigan. Current Location: Washington DC 2) Pediatric Emergency Medicine 3) Cape Town, South Africa, Seychelles, Cartagena, Colombia 4) Wear compression socks on long flights, drink lots of water and ALWAYS have Travel Medical Insurance with Medical Evacuation! 5) In-Flight emergencies can be nerve wrecking as it can be simple stuff or death. I once had someone have an allergic reaction to shrimp en route to USA from Seoul, Korea. Luckily, I’m a medical ninja when I travel! Benadryl in my fanny pack gave them a nice sleep! I always say I’m like an Air Marshall in-flight…Low key, Least expected yet ready when shit hits the fans! My Advice: Be nice to everyone! You never know who may save your Life… ?
1) Seattle, WA. Current location: Denver, CO 2) Cardiac Anesthesiology 3) Mexico, Vietnam, Anywhere in West Africa 4) For night flights pack earplugs and a eye pillow and travel in clothes that feel like pajamas. For me that’s yoga pants and a soft cotton top with sneakers. I do not want to be disturbed all “night” so I eat dinner on the ground before the flight and then skip whatever meal they want to serve at the equivalent of midnight. I take my melatonin and buckle my seat belt over my blanket. 5) Previous in-flight medical emergencies: too many to count. Many on KLM with a collection of ceramic Dutch houses as my thank you. I’ve responded to so many I have started packing a little homemade kit that includes an old stethoscope (I like mine better than the one that’s on the plane and it’s nice to have more than one) and a finger pulse ox. I have ever been asked for my credentials. Most serious incident was an unconscious patient on a transatlantic flight. Only myself and an endocrinologist on board. He knew the situation was out of his scope of practice so he immediately deferred to me. I asked him and another passenger to help me drag the patient to the galley so we could have enough room and light to assess and treat. I asked another passenger to hold a jaw thrust. I asked flight attendants for medical kit, oxygen, AED. Flight attendants were awesome and efficient. Initially I couldn’t feel a pulse nor get a blood pressure. I started an IV, and administered emergency medications. Patient stabilized. Thought it best to land immediately, but we were over the Atlantic so we couldn’t. Met by paramedics on the ground at the closest destination.
1) Oakland, CA Current Location: Houston, TX 2) Internal Medicine 3) Las Vegas, NapaValley, Caribbean 4) Stay hydrated! 5) Snubbed once on flight to Vegas! Passenger with pre-syncopal (near fainting) episode. I went to assist and flight attendant blocked my view and said go back to your seat. Informed them I was a physician and she said we got this. Ooh you do huh? Anyway, I assessed the scene and asked the passenger if she was ok. I told them to get her some water and left. On my way exiting the plane, another flight attendant said thanks for your attempt to help. I kept it moving … I will step over a flight attendant if needed in the best interest of sick/ill passenger.
1) Atlanta, GA. Current location: Melbourne, Australia 2) Obstetrics and Gynecology 3) Fiji, Amsterdam, Belize 4) Comfortable clothes and compression stockings. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! I try to drink at least 1L of water and it helps with jet lag! 5) My husband suffered with decompression sickness coming back from the Cayman Islands to Miami several years ago. We had been scuba diving all week and had waited the recommended 24 hours but he started feeling sick on the plane due to the altitude change. I was the doctor that took care of him until we landed. 🙂 Scary but he was just fine 🙂
1) Memphis, TN. Current Location: Nashville, TN area 2) Obstetrics and Gynecology 3) Sydney, St. Thomas and Jamaica for International. Domestic would be Asheville, NC, San Francisco and New York. 4) Take a small blanket and travel pillow along with basic toiletries so you can always rest and refresh wherever your travels take you. 5) Have never had to assist on a plane, but I always eye all the visibly pregnant patients for any signs of distress in the boarding area or as we are getting seated.
1) Toronto, Canada 2) Family medicine 3) Paris, France. Lisbon, Portugal. Barbados 4) To prevent clots (DVTs) make sure you are well-hydrated, go for strolls around the plane every so often and rock those compression stockings! 5) “Is there a doctor on board?” I was asked to help a middle aged gentleman on a flight to the Caribbean from Toronto as he was having a seizure on take-off. He had forgotten to take his medication and the rapid change in altitude triggered a seizure. Luckily, it was a minor one! I monitored him for the entire flight, where he remained stable and on landing local EMS took him straight to the hospital. The experience was a bit nerve wrecking because a million possibilities flew through my mind of what could happen next with limited resources available, but it helped prepare me for the next time I flew (and there was an emergency right next to me!). I was glad that the flight crew were super appreciative & helpful the entire time. Bonus: the president of West Jet sent me a thank you letter a few weeks later!
1) Jamaica WI, Los Angeles CA. Current location: Fort Worth TX. 2) Child Abuse Pediatrician 3) Venice, Italy. Barcelona, Spain. Anguilla 4) Get up and walk around every two hours to promote circulation 5) I was called upon twice to come to the assistance of passengers while traveling. The first time occurred when I was traveling to Egypt and a call went out for help due to a man who collapsed behind me. Initially, when I went to him I saw that he was on the floor, but had regained consciousness. Another doctor, a cardiologist, joined me in assessing him. Turned out, he had fainted due to a combination of anxiety and fatigue. During a domestic flight, a few years later, an overhead announcement went out asking for medical help. I pressed the call button, indicating that I was willing to help. When the flight attendant came, she asked if I was a nurse, I told her I was a physician and was immediately escorted to the elderly man toward the front of the cabin. When I arrived, the man was unconscious, but had a pulse. I aroused him with sternal rub and he regained consciousness. I asked for a blood pressure cuff and stethescope and determined that he was hypotensive. I was able to get a history from him. This had happened once before, he was on no significant medications. I encouraged him to drink fluids. I stayed with him for the duration of the flight and monitored his vitals . I was offered two small bottles of wine and a “thank you”. Numerous passengers, while departing, thanked me for aiding the gentleman. I was never asked for my credentials.
1) Englewood, New Jersey. 2) Obstetrics and Gynecology 3) Spain, Italy, Greece 4) Make sure you bring enough Benadryl. I always start out with taking one 25mg tablet, and then start reading, while listening to music. I usually bring 2 or 3 magazines to catch up on, as well as a few books on the tablet. Usually as I’m getting into the reading, I start getting sleepy. 5) I have never been called upon to assist a fellow traveler, and I also do not travel with my credentials. In light of the situation with Dr. Tamika Cross & Delta Airlines, I am enraged that as a group of professionals, we may need to carry credentials to be taken seriously in an emergent situation. I would help if need be, I am a physician; however, just as in everyday medicine, sadly I realize my good intentions could result in potential litigation
1) South Carolina. Current location: Washington DC area 2) Internal Medicine 3) South Africa, Costa Rica, and Cancun. 4) A general travel tip: Invest in the TSA precheck/Global entry program! And don’t overpack—Keep all the clothes in one color scheme (my travel uniform is black/white/red). 5) I have been asked twice for assistance in-flight. Luckily, both times there were other physicians on board. The first time was returning from a National Medical Association conference, so along with two other Black residents in my program, we responded to a call. A sickly, elderly gentleman just got lightheaded. We were only asked for our names/contact info after the situation seemed stable—I presumed to get a thank you note. Not sure that ever actually happened. The second time was on a trip to Australia…not much you can do over the Pacific ocean! I responded along with a recent medical student graduate. It t was an excuse to hang out in the first class section waiting on the passenger to feel better. I think we did get some better snacks before we returned to coach.
1)Brooklyn, NY, raised on Long Island, NY. Current location: Brooklyn, NY 2) General Pediatrician 3) Brazil, India and Cuba 4) I am a nervous traveler so my must haves are my Ipod and tablet for movies. Distraction is KEY for me. 5) I’ve never been asked to assist a passenger on flight, but I believe I am ready to if the occasion should arrive.
1) Queens, NY. 2) Internal Medicine 3) Vienna, Anguilla, and Barcelona 4) Use compression stockings. I get swelling in my legs when I fly, even if I avoid salty foods. Using compression stockings helps prevents that, and the heavy feeling in my legs. Also, be sure to get up and walk every couple hours. 5) I’ve only been on a flight once where a passenger needed medical assistance. I actually remember hesitating to think about if I had some documentation to prove who I was because I sort of expected them not to believe it (this was before Dr. Cross’s experience). That’s based on my experiences on land. Sometimes even at my own job patients and EMS question who I am after I’ve already introduced myself as Dr. Braswell. In my moment of hesitation, another black female doctor volunteered and helped the patient. I definitely made a point to introduce myself to her. We have exchanged contact information and keep in touch now. When I renewed my medical license, I applied for and paid the extra cost for the wallet sized card, because I intend to travel much more and I know the situation will come up again.
Dr.Fatu Forna Sesay
1) Freetown, Sierra Leone. Current location: Atlanta. GA 2) Obstetrics and Gynecology. 3) Freetown, Sierra Leone. Dubai, UAE. Monaco 4) Use a long flight to catch up on all those movies you planned to see in the theaters but somehow never made time to see! 5) I had to care for a lady who was sick on an international flight and was asked by the pilot whether we needed to make an emergency landing and divert the flight or proceed to our destination. Thankfully I was able to stabilize her and her condition was not life threatening and we were able to complete our flight!
Dr.Carisa Hines Moore
1) Atlanta, GA 2) Internal Medicine 3) Disney, Rome, Honolulu 4) On a flight keep your feet moving and stand up to try and reduce your risk for DVT 5) I was on a Delta flight last year, and the man sitting next to me developed chest pain. He told me he had been in Las Vegas and had gotten sick. He was admitted to the hospital was diagnosed with a heart attack. He was just discharged (I mean was still wearing his hospital ID band) and was flying home to Florida. I hit my call button and told the flight attendant what was going on and asked if they had any aspirin and/or nitroglycerin on board. Her first response was that she couldn’t just give it to him. I identified myself as a doctor (without showing any credentials although I do carry my wallet medical license with me) and she immediately responded to me and got the medications I had requested.
1) Chicago, IL Current location: Washington DC area 2) Internal Medicine, Medical Investigator 3) Honolulu, Paris, Punta Cana 4) Stay hydrated and move around. 5) I have responded to at least 5 medical emergencies. I fly Delta Airlines 95% of the time and have never had any issues with the flight attendants. I have found this airline to actually have the equipment necessary to handle true emergencies, including blood pressure cuffs, glucometers, oxygen, IV fluids and tubing, etc. This is not standard across airlines, and is scarce on many. I’ve always been thanked for my services by the on-flight crew and Delta’s corporate office.
1) Seattle, WA Current location: Atlanta, GA 2) Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine 3) Zanzibar, Tanzania. Positano,Italy. Turks and Caicos 4) A neck pillow is a must. I like the Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow. I also wear comfy clothes for long flights. 5) I don’t think people understand that we could just as easily ignore the call and not volunteer to help! The one time I assisted I was a resident. It was the early part of a 6hr flight and I had to make the call whether to land or not. As confident as I was of my assessment and decision not to land, do you think I was able to relax the rest of a 6hr flight? It was a red eye no less so I had to go straight to work on landing!
1) Los Angeles, CA. Current location: Tulsa, OK 2) Pediatric Residency 3) Costa Rica, Mexico City and any of the US National Parks. 4) I absolutely love flying, especially if I have a great music playlist, a good book and lots of snacks. I usually pick a window seat and have my face glued to the window for the entire takeoff and landing. Looking out the window as we get closer to landing is the perfect introduction to a new city. 5) I assisted a passenger once on a Southwest Airlines flight after the man experienced loss of consciousness. The flight attendant kept calling me “nurse” after I repeatedly told her that I was a physician. She was polite though and just asked that I give her my information in case any further action was needed upon landing.
1) Brooklyn, NY 2) Ophthalmologist 3) New Orleans, Negril, and Dubai. 4) Carry a small bottle of essential oil along with a handkerchief or scarf. If unfortunately you are sitting next to a smelly passenger, add a few drops of the oil to the fabric and keep it close. 5) I have not encountered a call for assistance as of yet. I do have a copy of my medical license stored on my smartphone. I would help but might need a second lead to assist. Ideally, an internist or surgeon on board since I am an ophthalmologist.
Dr.Rona S. Smith
1) Woodbridge, VA 2) Internal Medicine and Nephrology 3) Dubai, Bahamas, Bangkok 4) Get an aisle seat, save up your movie watching for the trip and hydrate. 5) Never asked to assist on a flight, but asked while on a tour bus in the Dominican Republic and the patient and passengers were all grateful. This was a surprise do to my daily experiences as a Black physician in America.
Dr.Karen A. Scott
1) Nashville, TN. Current location: Emeryville, California 2) Obstetrics Gynecology, Ob Hospitalist, STD Clinical Expert, Sexual and Reproductive Epidemiology 3) Kauai, Hawaii, USVI – St John, Curaçao 4) Stay hydrated. Pack cleaning wipes and moisturizer cream for hands. Read your favorite book. Stretch and take a walk throughout the cabin. Continue planning and organizing your adventures. Catch up on old movies. Delete old emails and text messages. Journal your experience in the most authentic way. Enjoy, sleep, and relax. 5) I have not assisted a passenger in-flight but I am sure if the situation arose I would be prepared to help.
1) Baton Rouge, LA. Current location: Dallas, TX. 2) Perinatal Palliative Care and Neonatal Hospice 3) Grenada. Africa (Kenya/Mombasa). New York City 4) Wear compression socks—leg cramps are the worse and my husband did sustain leg cramps and later pulmonary blood clots following an extended flight which required treatment. Carry at least one change of clothes. There is nothing worse than losing your entire wardrobe en route to another country! Oh and mints please…morning breath is no Bueno after 18hours. My favorite part of an extended flight experience is the movies and the warm towels in the morning. 5) I have not assisted on an in-flight emergency but I would if needed.
1) Cleveland, OH. Current location Jacksonville, FL 2) Emergency Medicine physician 3) Favorite travel destination is Paris and my favorite relaxation is a warm beach 4) Don’t eat gaseous foods (beans, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) or drink carbonated drinks before flying. The pressurized cabin causes your abdomen to distend and produce discomfort. 5) I fly 3-4 times a month for work and 3-4 international trips per year. I have responded several times to medical emergencies inflight; and have even talked to medical control from the cockpit. The most scary times have been when the plane is over water. I have never been hindered from providing care after announcing I am a physician; and if multiple people respond, they defer to me because I am an emergency medicine physician.
1) Kansas City, KS. Current location: Las Vegas, NV 2) Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 3) Iceland, Paris, Amsterdam 4) Hydrate during the flight. It kills two birds with one stone. Hydration helps to minimize/prevent jet lag and by hydrating, it forces you to get up to go to the restroom. Getting up and down increases activity and decreases the chance of getting blood clots in your legs 5) I have responded to a call in-flight. I was the first of several physicians to respond when the overhead call was made. I was never questioned. I wasn’t questioned at the time I responded. I vaguely remember being asked about my training when it was all over. The passenger was fine when it was all said and done.
1) Jamaica WI, NJ/NY area. Current location: Atlanta, GA 2) Pediatric Hospital Medicine 3) International: Cuba, South Africa, Barcelona. Domestic: Anywhere in California especially Napa Valley! New Orleans, LA. Sedona, AZ 4) Always bring your own comfy blanket because airplanes are freezing! I also bring my own bottled water and snacks. I don’t like being at the mercy of when the flight crew decides to make their rounds. Download new music and books and magazines on your tablets and phones to keep you occupied on the flight. Bring a toiletry bag with toothpaste, floss, soap, facial wipes and lotion so you can freshen up in-flight and on landing. Don’t forget your ear plugs, headsets and eye masks so you can block out noisy passengers and bright light to get some rest on the flight. 5) I have never been asked to assist with a medical emergency on a flight but I would be more than willing to help. I do not carry any credentials on me when I travel or otherwise and I was shocked to hear this is expected of doctors in-flight. As physicians we know every second counts in a medical emergency and I expect flight attendants to use proper judgment in making the best decision for the passenger.
I would like to sincerely thank all my friends and colleagues for taking the time to share their in-flight stories and travel advice with us! All these black female doctors are also world travelers and I am in awe of the passion they have for their families, patients and each other. It is important to keep in mind that doctors are volunteering when a call is made on a flight. It is not an obligation but an instinct to help those in need. I sincerely hope Delta airlines and all airlines provide sensitivity training to make sure what happened to Dr.Tamika Cross does not occur on future flights. In the end it is the passenger’s life at stake.
Please share your thoughts with us below. Have you ever assisted on a flight or needed assistance? What did you think of the situation with Dr.Tamika Cross?