Patricia Bath was the first African American woman to complete an ophthalmology residency and the first African American female doctor to be granted a medical patent. In 1986, she developed the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment.
Patricia Bath: Who Was She?
Patricia Bath was the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency in 1973. She became the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute two years later. Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976, which established that “vision is a fundamental human right.” Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe in 1986, which improved cataract treatment. She received a medical patent for the device in 1988, making her the first African American female doctor to do so.
Patricia Era Bath was born on November 4, 1942, in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to Rupert Bath, the city’s first Black subway motorman, and Gladys Bath, a housewife and domestic worker who saved money for her children’s education. Bath’s family encouraged her to pursue academic interests. Bath learned about the wonders of travel and the importance of exploring new cultures from her father, a former Merchant Marine and occasional newspaper columnist. Her mother sparked the young girl’s interest in science by purchasing a chemistry set for her.
As a result, Bath worked hard on her intellectual pursuits and, at the age of 16, became one of only a few students to attend a National Science Foundation-sponsored cancer research workshop. Dr. Robert Bernard, the program’s director, was so impressed with Bath’s discoveries during the project that he included them in a scientific paper he presented at a conference. Bath received the Merit Award from Mademoiselle magazine in 1960 for the publicity surrounding her discoveries.
Bath attended Hunter College after graduating from high school in two years and earning a bachelor’s degree in 1964. She then attended Howard University to study medicine. Bath graduated from Howard with honors in 1968 and soon after accepted an internship at Harlem Hospital. The following year, she began her ophthalmology fellowship at Columbia University. Through her research, she discovered that African Americans were twice as likely to be blind as other patients she saw, and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. Her research led to the creation of a community ophthalmology system, which increased the amount of eye care available to those who could not afford it.
Bath was the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency in 1973. The following year, she relocated to California to work as an assistant professor of surgery at both Charles R. Drew University and the University of California, Los Angeles. She was the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute when she joined in 1975.
Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976, which established that “vision is a fundamental human right.” By 1983, Bath had helped establish the UCLA-Drew Ophthalmology Residency Training program, which she also chaired, making her the first woman in the country to hold such a position.
Inventing the Laserphaco Probe
Bath began work on her most well-known invention, the Laserphaco Probe, in 1981. (1986). Using laser technology, the device created a less painful and more precise cataract treatment. She received a patent for the device in 1988, making her the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. She is also the owner of patents in Japan, Canada, and Europe. Bath was able to help restore the sight of people who had been blind for more than 30 years thanks to her Laserphaco Probe.
Bath retired from UCLA Medical Center in 1993 and became an honorary member of its medical staff. She was named a “Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine” the same year.
Bath was a strong supporter of telemedicine, which uses technology to provide medical services in remote areas, among her many roles in the medical field.
Bath died in San Francisco, California on May 30, 2019.