Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday voiced support for one of its doctors who says she was racially profiled on a Boston-bound flight Tuesday night.
In a statement, the hospital’s president praised Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a leading obesity specialist who told the Globe that a flight crew repeatedly asked to see her medical license while she tried to render aid to a fellow passenger in distress.
Stanford, who is African-American, said she felt the crew’s questioning of her credentials was “100 percent” racially biased.
She was flying on a plane operated by Republic Airline, which is a Delta Connection carrier, according to Delta Air Lines.
“We are proud of Dr. Stanford for immediately coming to the aid of an ailing passenger but are dismayed that her credentials and qualifications were questioned,” Dr. Peter L. Slavin, the president of MGH, said in a statement Thursday. “We are reminded that events like this occur every day in every organization, and we need to more reliably recognize them and work collaboratively to eliminate them.”
Republic said Thursday that the company was “grateful to Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance onboard our Flight 5935.”
The company also apologized for “any misunderstanding that may have occurred during her exchange with our in-flight crew. Moving forward, we are working with Delta to ensure our employees understand and consistently apply all applicable policies. Dr. Stanford’s care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue.”
The credentials of Stanford, an instructor at Harvard Medical School who also holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, are laid out in her biography on the MGH website. It describes her as “a national and international sought after expert in obesity medicine who bridges the intersection of medicine, public health, policy, and disparities.”
Stanford graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 2007, and her current license to practice in Massachusetts was issued in 2013, records show.
Her many honors include the American Medical Association’s Foundation Leadership Award in 2005; an AMA Paul Ambrose Award for national leadership among resident physicians in 2009; the American College of Physicians Joseph E. Johnson Leadership Award in 2013; the Harvard Medical School Amos Diversity Award in 2017; and the Massachusetts Medical Society Award for Women’s Health, the biography says.
In addition, Stanford in 2005 received “the Gold Congressional Award, the highest honor that Congress bestows upon America’s youth,” according to her bio.
Her clinical interests include obesity medicine, weight gain and obesity in children and adolescents, weight loss medication for use for treating obesity, weight regain after bariatric surgery, weight loss, health care for vulnerable populations, health promotion, health services research, health and fitness, and health care policy, the biography says.
“Her current work focuses on the use of pharmacotherapy for patients who have undergone weight loss surgery, policy surrounding obesity coverage in the US and abroad, shared decision making in obesity therapy, weight bias and stigma, and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with obesity,” the posting says.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Stanford said she was flying from Indianapolis to Boston after a business meeting when the woman next to her started convulsing and hyperventilating. Stanford said her first instinct was to figure out how best to help the passenger.
However, she said, flight attendants questioned her identity and qualifications several times as she tried to calm the woman, even after she showed them her medical license more than once.
“I was trying to talk to her [the passenger] like she was my friend,” said Stanford, a Boston resident. “A lot of things were triggering for her, and my goal was to make her as calm as possible.”
In a statement Wednesday, Delta thanked Stanford for her medical assistance and apologized for “any misunderstanding” between her and the crew. “We are following up with the crew to ensure proper policy is followed,” the release said.
Delta said the airline and its connection partners “do not require medical credential verification and will secure a professional’s help based on the volunteer’s statement that he or she is a physician, physician assistant, nurse, paramedic, or EMT.”
A Delta spokesman said Thursday that the airline was working with Republic “on policy to ensure it’s consistent with ours.”
Stanford has taken to Twitter to voice her displeasure.
“So I spoke with @Delta and I left the conversation quite uncertain that any changes will be made,” Stanford tweeted Wednesday. “Summary: flight attendants thought I was a #therapist despite #MDlicense. They will make sure this is addressed. Thanks for being a #skymiles member. Really?!$ #iamadoctor.”
The group Diva Docs Boston, a support network for black female physicians training and working in the area, also weighed in.
“Another example of the #bias that #MinoritiesinMedicine face every single day,” the group tweeted Wednesday. “We need allies to help call out bias when they see it, implicit or not.”