Dr. Tamika Cross made headlines when she posted a troubling airplane encounter in a Facebook post: that she, a young black doctor, was turned away when she tried to provide medical care to a sick passenger.
“Oh no sweetie put [your] hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel,” Cross recalled a flight attendant telling her, before asking her for credentials and accepting help from a white physician. “Whether this was race, age, gender discrimination, it’s not right.”
She’s far from the only one. As Cross’s story went viral, more female doctors—many whom are women of color—shared stories of their own. “I identified myself as a physician and was pushed out of the way and told to step aside for a male RN to tend to the passenger,” wrote Dr. Amina Moghul, a doctor practicing family medicine. “I thought it was just me that had experienced this.”
Dr. Pamela Wible, a family physician (who herself has assisted in two in-air medical emergencies) began collecting stories like these. After posting about Cross’s experience, 50 female physicians messaged Wible with their own experiences. “I’m hearing from people who have airline stories, stories from motor vehicle accidents, stories from football fields, where the umpire didn’t believe a woman when she said she was a doctor,” Wible says. Sometimes, says Wible, dark-skinned women aren’t even recognized as doctors within their own hospitals, even when they’re wearing a white coat. “It’s our culture.”
Part of the challenge: only 2% of physicians in the U.S. are black women. “I have interviewed dozens of black women doctors,” wrote Crystal Emery, director of a new documentary called Black Women in Medicine, in a recent op-ed for TIME. “Time and time again they would share with me stories about how they were mistaken for home health aides or dietitians. People refused to believe a black woman could be a physician.”
Below are the stories from seven female physicians who say they experienced in-flight discrimination.