Updated: Feb 8, 2022
About Dr. Patricia Bath
Dr. Patricia Bath is an African American ophthalmologist, inventor, and academic scholar. Bath was also the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent for inventing the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986 which was less painful and precise. She has broken gender borders by being the first African American woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology and also being the first to be inducted into the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame. In the past year, 3.6 million people have treated their cataracts thanks to Bath's incredible contribution to the medical field.
Bath grew up in Harlem, New York where prejudice was prominent; therefore, she couldn't go to medical school there due to tensions. She then moved to Los Angeles, California where she was also treated with injustice. Her office was located "in the basement next to the lab animals." She argued that it was not sexism that threw her off, but that it was just inappropriate and succeeded in getting acceptable office space.
In 1968, Bath realized that in Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic they did not perform any surgeries and this was a shock for her. She was the reason for bringing ophthalmic surgical services to the hospital by persuading her professors at Columbia to operate on blind patients for free. She then volunteered as an assistant surgeon. As a result of her efforts, she performed her first major eye operation at Harlem Hospital in 1970.
In 1974, Bath was the first woman ophthalmologist to be appointed to the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine Jules Stein Eye Institute. She notes that when she became integrated into the department, she was offered an office. However, she refused it due to the inequality that came with the spot. Bath strongly believed in equality for all.
In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which established that "eyesight is a basic human right." Along with three of her other colleagues, they established a goal is to eradicate blindness by 2020. They hope to insure all children have all visual needs met, including eyeglasses; assist blind children to achieve their best by special educational resources; and establish the World Eye Institute for the research and treatment of blinding eye diseases, with clinic facilities open to the blind of all nations on an equal basis.
In 1983, Bath was appointed Chair of the KING-DREW-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program, becoming the first woman in the US to head an ophthalmology residency program.
While at UCLA, Bath had wanted to pursue research, though being denied the grants and resources by the National Institutes of Health and the National Eye Institute. It was then she had decided to look further for the best laboratories in the world, to support her plans for innovation in the world of ophthalmology.
In 1986, Bath discovered and invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as the Laserphaco Probe. A year later, she presents her innovation at the national convention of Cataract Surgeons wherein she describes it as a device and methodology for removing the cataractous lens with laser pulsations called Laserphaco.
In 1993, Bath retired from UCLA, which subsequently elected her the first woman on its honorary staff. She served as a professor of ophthalmology at Howard University's School of Medicine and as a professor of telemedicine and ophthalmology at St. Georges University ophthalmology training program. Being a strong advocate for telemedicine, she supported the innovation of virtual labs, as a part of the curriculum in ophthalmology residency training programs, to provide surgeons with more realistic experience, made possible by 3D imaging. In an article written by Bath, in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, she had proven that with better training and supervision in residency programs, students were able to achieve better results in their surgeries, leading to greater visual acuity.
Dr. Patricia Bath died on May 30, 2019, from complications of cancer at a University of California San Francisco medical center and her legacy still lives on through the barriers she broke though as a STEM Pioneer.
The Re.engineer community honors the life and legacy of Dr. Patricia Bath and may we always remember her faithfulness and commitment to showing us the possibilities in STEM.
Bath was nominated by Erika Jefferson, President & Founder of Black Women in Science & Engineering. BWISE played an integral role in supporting Bath to become the first African American woman to be inducted into the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame.