Doctor say flight attendants doubted her medical qualifications

A local doctor had a hard time convincing a couple of flight attendants on a Republic Airlines flight she was, in fact, qualified to treat a sick patient.

Doctor Fatima Cody Stanford, who practices obesity medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School, continued having issues with proving her medical expertise even after she showed the onboard crew her medical license.

It all happened on a Republic Airlines flight, a connection carrier for Delta, Tuesday night when a passenger next to Stanford fell ill.

"Lots of shaking, hyperventilation," said Stanford.

Without being asked, Stanford presented her medical license to a flight attendant so she could provide the passenger medical assistance. "She looked at it, walked down to the back of the plane and then the second flight attendant approached me and said, 'Well can I see your license again?' [and] I said, 'Absolutely.'"

As Stanford worked to calm the panic-stricken passenger, the second flight attendant asked for a clarification.

"[She said] 'I just talked with the first flight attendant and she said you're not really a doctor, you're just a head doctor,' [and] I said, 'Excuse me? What do you mean by that?' [To which she replied] 'Oh so you're not really an MD are you?'" Stanford said.

Coincidentally, Stanford had just attended a conference on medical bias two weeks ago at where she had interviewed another doctor who had a similar experience aboard another Delta flight.

In that incident, a licensed doctor - also a black woman - charged that flight attendants turned away her offer to help a sick passenger in favor of a white male doctor.

"At that time she did not actually have her credentials on her and that's when I began to make sure that I was always equipped with my license," said Stanford.

That prior incident prompted Delta to no longer require flight attendants to ask for medical credentials for offers of medical assistance.

And yet, even with her medical license in hand, Stanford's qualifications were still questioned more than once. "It was quite disconcerting that here I was trying to help a fellow passenger who happened to be seated directly next to me and my value and worth in that situation was questioned," she said.

A Delta representative said in a statement to Boston 25 News, that according to the flight crew's account "they initially misread the credentials offered by the doctor and went to reconfirm her specific medical discipline." "We thank Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance," the statement said, "and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred." Delta said it's also reaching out to Stanford as part of their investigation into the incident.

Delta’s full statement is below:

"We thank Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred during her exchange with the in-flight crew. According to the flight crew's account, they initially misread the credentials offered by the doctor and went to reconfirm her specific medical discipline. We are following up with the crew to insure proper policy is followed.

Dr. Stanford's care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue."