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MGH surgeon calls treatment of colleague on Boston-bound flight ‘shameful’

Dr. Peter Theodore Masiakos took to Twitter to highlight what he said was the bias that Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist at MGH, endured during her Tuesday night flight.
Dr. Peter Theodore Masiakos took to Twitter to highlight what he said was the bias that Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist at MGH, endured during her Tuesday night flight. Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

A Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon Thursday slammed an airline crew for their “shameful” treatment of his colleague, who reported being racially profiled when staffers on the flight repeatedly asked to see her medical license while she helped a passenger in distress.

The surgeon, Dr. Peter Theodore Masiakos, took to Twitter to highlight what he said was the bias that Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist at MGH, endured during her Tuesday night flight.

Stanford, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, was traveling on a plane operated by Republic Airline, a Delta Connection carrier, according to Delta. Both companies have apologized for any “misunderstanding” between Stanford and the crew. They’ve also said the matter is under review and that discrimination isn’t tolerated on flights.

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But Masiakos made it clear in his tweet that he thought Stanford was profiled by the crew, which reportedly asked to see her medical license multiple times while she rendered aid to a passenger who began to hyperventilate.

“I am a 50 Something, white, male pediatric surgeon,” Masiakos wrote. “Over the last 25 years I have responded to several in flight medical emergencies (almost always involving an adult). I’ve never been asked for a license let alone twice. Shameful.”

Stanford told the Globe on Wednesday that she felt the crew’s questioning of her credentials was “100 percent” racially biased. She said attendants inquired about her identity and qualifications several times as she tried to calm the passenger, 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.”

Masiakos, who also teaches at Harvard Medical School, is one of many physicians who have voiced support for Stanford.

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Also among the chorus of backers is Dr. Hope T. Jackson, a surgeon in Washington, D.C.

“This is unacceptable!” Jackson tweeted Wednesday. “Dr Stanford is an extraordinary physician! Preventing her from caring for someone in need, even after providing her credentials is an error with significant passenger safety implications. Do better! #bias #BlackWomeninMedicine #weexist.”

The group Diva Docs Boston, a local support network for black female physicians working and training in the area, said Wednesday that Stanford’s experience during her flight is not uncommon.

“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.”

Another of those allies is Dr. Katherine M. Sharkey, assistant dean for women in medicine and science at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

In a series of tweets Thursday, she wrote, “We stand by you @fstanfordmd,” which is Stanford’s Twitter handle, and also questioned the need to thoroughly vet doctors who spring into action to help ailing passengers.

“Here’s something I don’t get,” Sharkey wrote. “[D]o they really think that people who *aren’t* medical professionals are clamoring to help strangers with unknown medical emergencies at 30,000 feet? I mean, is that common?!”

Delta said earlier this week that the airline and its connection partners “do not require medical credential verification” from doctors, nurses, and other providers who step forward to help passengers during emergencies.

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The airline said it’s “following up with the crew to insure proper policy is followed,” and Republic said it’s “working with Delta to ensure our employees understand and consistently apply all applicable policies.”

In an e-mail late Thursday, Stanford said airline officials didn’t say in their correspondence with her “whether they believed the flight attendants had violated company protocol. The only thing that they stated was that ‘they are working on this at the highest levels of the company.’ ”

In a follow-up message Friday morning, Stanford said she’s encouraged by the outpouring of support from colleagues.

“It is amazing to get this support,” Stanford wrote. “I don’t feel alone in this struggle. I am thankful for my colleagues and their support in so many ways.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.