Dr. Ashley Denmark, D.O., who hails from South Carolina, was on a flight from Seattle to Hawaii. The trip, to attend a good friend’s wedding, was intended as a bit of a rest and relaxation period for the busy doctor, wife, and mother of two. As soon as she heard there was a traveler in need of medical assistance, though, Denmark got up and made her presence known. That’s when everything went awry. Denmark shared her story on her website:
“As I settled in to watch a movie and read a book, about 1 hour into our flight over the intercom, a flight attendant requested a doctor or nurse to report to front of cabin to assist a passenger. When duty calls it calls — even if you are 30,000 feet in air…”
And she continued on social media:“The flight attendant didn’t believe I was a doctor and told me to have a seat while 2 nurses provided medical care to the passenger.”
It was merely a few days ago when Tamika Cross, MD, another young, black physician described a very similar situation happening on a different Delta flight. In Cross’s situation, the passenger was unresponsive, a seemingly life-threatening situation in which every second counted.
What exactly is it that inspires seemingly normal people to prevent qualified individuals from offering their professional assistance? In life-or-death situations, do we really have time to be prejudiced?
A report by the Washington Post, points to the phenomenon of “implicit bias” as the culprit. “Overt bias certainly exists, but there is also a growing body of scientific literature that’s revealing an even more uncomfortable truth,” according to the article. “Deep-seated unconscious biases help steer our thinking and behavior — even when we don’t realize it.”
One can only hope that by sharing their stories, women like Cross and Denmark can begin to receive the respect that others — particularly older, white men — enjoy without needing to jump through hoops to prove themselves.
Denmark reiterated this hope, telling Yahoo Beauty that she hopes her story raises awareness to the fact that the face of medicine is changing. “Doctors can be young, female, or come from different ethnic backgrounds,” she says. “My hope is that Delta takes into account my unfortunate experience and prevents a similar occurrence from happening again. Despite this experience, I have remained focused and will continue to do so, striving to be the best physician, mother, and wife I can be.”
And to those last words, we’re happy to give her more than the benefit of the doubt.