Dear Delta: This is what 'actual physicians' look like

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The story of a flight attendant who turned down the help of a young black female doctor--assuming she couldn’t be a real physician--has resulted in headlines across the country and a strong reaction on social media.

Tamika Cross, M.D., a resident obstetrician-gynecologist based in Houston, wrote about the incident on Facebook earlier this month. Cross said she tried to respond to help another passenger having a medical emergency on a Delta Air Lines flight, when a flight attendant dismissed her efforts, doubting she was a physician and then asking to see her credentials.

Cross, a doctor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, recalled the flight crew member saying: “Oh no, sweetie, put [your] 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," according to Cross.

"I'm sure many of my fellow young, corporate America working women of color can all understand my frustration when I say I’m sick of being disrespected," Cross wrote in her post:

In a statement, Delta Air Lines said it is troubled by any accusations of discrimination and is investigating the incident.

Cross’ Facebook post went viral, drawing more than 15,000 comments and sparking a Twitter hashtag #whatadoctorlookslike in which female African-American physicians--and others--have responded to the story of discrimination, many posting their pictures in scrubs and white coats.

The incident struck a nerve among female physicians who say they face discrimination because of their race and gender. In a commentary on STAT, Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu, M.D., a first-year resident in psychiatry, said as a young black woman many people also assume she is not a doctor. As for the Twitter postings, “It’s inspirational that there are so many of us, doing so many wonderful things. But it’s also sad, because here we are, once again, forced into explaining why we belong in the space we’ve earned,” she wrote. “We are here. And we are what a doctor looks like.”

In a post on Kevin.MD, family physician Pamela Wible, M.D., said Cross joins a long list of female physicians who have experienced the same discrimination.

Notes a tweet from the account of the Drexel University College of Medicine's Legacy Center archives, black women have been trained doctors since 1864: