Doctor Doofus

Is there a doctor on the plane? is the account of a Canadian physician who volunteered his time, twice, on a flight from Montreal to Paris.

Good for him for coming forward. I’m much less impressed with his desire for compensation from the airline for his efforts.

via Kevin, MD


  1. hypnoid says:

    I’ve only had to do this once so far-I received a thank you from a flight attendant, not even so much as a note from the airline. Which was fine with me. The limit of my “help” was listening in to the patient talking to the first doctor who’d responded, verifying there wasn’t anything critical happening, and offering to come back if they needed a second physician for anything.
    Mind you…”incident reports??” I’ll offer my professional services gladly to help my fellow traveller, but if you’re going to expect me to fill out a bunch of paperwork, you may very well get a bill of some kind. I don’t think this doctor is really out of line here.

  2. A couple of questions come to mind:
    The “obligation to intervene” noted in the article- does it extend when not in Quebec? In the USA, the medical license is granted by the individual state, and is not valid anywhere else. We do not have such an obligation in the USA. Is any medical license valid over the Atlantic Ocean? Who gets sued when the outcome is not optimal, and in what jurisdiction? The home city of the airline? The destination city? Is the airline responsible if the “doctor” is incompetent, or a doctor of divinity, or just slept the previous night in a Holiday Inn? Also, in the USA, there are Good Samaritan laws that provide protection from lawsuits in emergent situations, but only if the doc is acting out of altruism (has no pre-existing obligation to treat the patient) and only if no compensation is demanded. Obviously, laws are different in Canada, and it might be good if someone who knows about such things to educate docs who spend time on airplanes.

    Other than forfeiting some legal protection (likely not a problem in whatever jurisdiction he was in at the time), I see nothing wrong with requesting another pair of tickets as compensation. The airline should encourage docs to fly on their planes- it would make other passengers feel better, and maybe one of them will one day have a real problem where the presence of the MD will actually make a difference. Making him fill out paperwork is an additional insult. If I have a choice, I’m avoiding Air Canada.

  3. I’m going to try and hold my temper in this one, due to the issue of a doctor who didn’t want to respond to a call on an airline due to “liabilities”, the question of “who gets sued?” over a bad outcome, and ESPECIALLY a request for compensation for services.

    This EXPLAINS why, when I was on a flight from Damascus, Syria to The Netherlands WHY no doctor responded when a call went out over the loudspeaker. Not one guy/gal stood up. The call went out a second time. And mind you, they said that it was a “passenger in distress”. Nobody stood up.

    You can’t tell me that on a double-story 747 which held over 400 passengers that there wasn’t one single doctor aboard.

    So I went. A lone RN.

    It was a passenger who was c/o abdominal pain. I was provided a basic vital kit and took his vitals (which are difficult to hear in a 747, mind you.) They were stable.

    The captain of the airplane came to see me (and man, those Dutch captains have the neatest uniforms I’ve ever seen—epaulets and everything.)

    He asked what I should do—emergency landing or what. I advised the perfect logic of simply what I saw. That the patient was stable and that there was no way of knowing what the problem was without further medical eval. I advised him to hurry the hell up to get to Amsterdam and to have an ambulance on the tarmac and get this guy off the plane ASAP.

    Which is what the captain did. (And it’s a weird thing to feel a 747 speed up—usually they feel so stable, but this baby took off like the Enterprise and it was cool.

    The airline gave me applause and handed me a big old bottle of premium champagne.

    Would I worry about “liability”? Hell no. Never thought about it. I considered it my good deed for the day. Would I want compensation? Hell no, never thought about it–was glad to help.

    Was I pissed off at all the doctors aboard who sat hiding behind their Time Magazines and Forbes? You betcha.

  4. Ha Ha. I can sympathize. I can also sympathize with feeling screwed over by chintzy compensation after saving the airline a million bucks (and saving a life).

    But it’s still pretty lame to ask for or demand compansation.

  5. Did you hear about the doctor complaining to a lawyer at a party? The doc was tired of people soliciting medical advice after hours. The lawyer told him to start billing for his time and people would leave him alone. Soon, the doc went to his mailbox and found a bill from the lawyer!

  6. Help someone in “distress?” Sure. I’ve done it before on commercial flights. But to then ask the kind responder to spend the rest of his flight filling out forms, and then it looks like they were making him do professional work without pay. Remember, they asked for professional people, not just anyone. That is selectively demanding a particular kind of help, expert help, and then expecting to provide formal documentation, what would legally pass for a medical record under the circumstances. And this particular Canadian doctor was asked to help twice on the same flight, a flight he had paid the airline to travel on, and was involuntarily asked to work (legally obligated, as the article put it.)

    Under those circumstances, I think it is fair for the airline to properly compensate him for the work he did. As far as the cabin attendant’s request for help goes, once you start being particular about the kind of person you want responding, then you are inherently declaring that you have more expectations of the quality of that help than you would of any passerby or random passenger. The patient he assisted should feel a moral duty to offer payment for the services rendered (remember, not just any old kind of help, but professional help. Fat chance, , being Canadians, they probably extend their government-funded sense of entitlement to Air Canada flights, too.)

    This doctor is not out of line. And the airline is churlish for not recognizing that their request did in fact impose on the doctor, whether the law required him to help or not. He had paid to fly; he wasn’t part of that airline’s cabin crew, and he shouldn’t be treated as if he were.

  7. webhill says:

    OK, first of all, the guy is a shmuck for asking for help, in my personal opinion.
    Second of all, he did NOT pay for a “quiet, relaxing flight.” He paid for a spot on the plane and passage to his destination. There is a difference. I just flew BOS to PHL and it was perhaps the least quiet and relaxing flight ever, because a 2 yr old child was screaming bloody murder and thrashing about the entire time. The airline didn’t give anyone a refund or new tickets or anything, they just said “sorry about that, yeah, it sucked for us all, but thanks for flying with us” and that was the end of it.
    Third of all – the airline SHOULD offer a material form of compensation to doctors who step up like that, again in my personal opinion. But their failure to do so does not mean it is ok to ask.

  8. I will allow that everybody has a right to their opinions. EXCEPT I highly object to the person who criticizes Canadians. Remember, it was the Canadians who saved as many Americans as they could when the Iranian hostage crisis occurred—at a terrible danger to themselves. They’ve helped us many a time. Canadians are some of the most wonderful people I have ever known—I’ve nursed with Canadian nurses and am impressed. I have always dreamed of going up there and visiting, but alas, I can’t afford it.

  9. Jack Coupal says:

    To cover all contingencies after that flight, the stewardess should have made her announcement:

    “Is there a doctor – and a tort lawyer – on board this flight ?”

    jes kidding.

  10. anonymurse says:

    I have heard that airlines COUNT on having a doctor on board. Probably some doctor with a legal bent could figure out whether this is true by examining airline inflight policies. And if so, no question they should pay all the time, every time.


    About NZ doctors’ duty to respond in flight, jurisdiction being the location where the airplane is registered, etc:


    There is original/final power in the authority of a ship’s captain with the ship under way. Might it be that by calling for a doctor, an airline pilot has legally recognized a right to practice for any who respond to his call?