Nurses and Inflight Emergencies


A recent incident involving a physician is a medical emergency whilst onboard a passenger flight in the USA has raised some questions about the ethics surrounding assisting fellow passengers whilst traveling.

The incident in question happened in October 2016 when a 28-year-old OB/GYN resident from Houston offered her medical expertise in dealing with a medical emergency on board the flight she was traveling on. According to the New York Times, this offer was rejected by the flight attendant as they were not satisfied she was actually a physician.

It seems however that the flight attendant was perfectly within her rights to reject the doctors offer, as the US FAA policies clearly state that access to medical equipment should only be granted to trained crew member and other persons who are trained in the use of emergency medical equipment. It is also preferable for a flight attendant to check the credentials of a passenger who purports themselves to be a medical professional.

This incident highlights a few issues when it comes to medical emergencies in one of the most isolated places to deal with life-threatening conditions. On on hand, the flight attendants are well within their rights to reject the assistance of someone they believe is not who they purport to be, but on the other hand, many medical professionals hold protected titles, which carry some hefty penalties for anyone claiming to be a medical professional when they are not. And let’s face reality here, how many of us carry around our credentials while traveling on holiday? perhaps to a conference or other work-related activity, but otherwise, do we carry our ID’s when we go to grab a morning coffee?

While the incident discussed above does not mention the outcome for the patient in this case, I think I’m going to have to side with the airlines on this one. It is the flight attendants that are trained to deal with problems in that environment, and it is their responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the passengers, including when they may be in need of emergency care. While in this particular case the flight attendant may have made an incorrect call with regards to the physician’s credentials, I can only assume that they needed to make a quick decision under immense pressure and at the time, believed they were acting in the best interests of the patient.

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