In the late 1950s, a 16 year old African American high schooler in Harlem New York won the prestigious grant to attend the Summer Institute in Biomedical Science at Yeshiva University in New York. It was there, this young, black female scientist stunned researchers on her findings and she would continue to do so throughout her entire medical and academic career, shifting the dynamics in the ophthalmology field throughout the world.
Dr. Patricia Bath was a pioneer. She was an academic, ophthalmologist, humanitarian and inventor who rattled the ophthalmology medical field with her knowledge, research and inventions. Most notably, she invented the laserphaco probe which allowed for a less invasive, less painful procedure using a laser to remove cataracts. In turn, her invention would go on to serve underserved communities across the globe.
When learning about Dr. Bath, it’s hard to ignore just how many FIRSTS she’s achieved. She broke barriers in all directions and created many critical organizations for eye health when there were none. We compiled a list of her outstanding achievements of first and creations:
- Dr. Bath was the first Black resident doctor (male or female) in ophthalmology at New York University’s School of Medicine from 1970-73.
- She was the first female faculty member of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute in Los Angeles.
- Bath was the first woman in the United States of America to head an ophthalmology program when she was appointed chair of the KING-DREW-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program in 1983.
- She became the first African-American woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center.
- Bath led the first national keratoprosthesis study in the USA based on her thorough research and achievements in keratoprosthesis.
- Bath patented the laserphaco probe, the invention that uses lasers to conduct a less invasive and painful procedure to remove cataracts.
- Bath was the first black female physician to receive a U.S patent for a medical invention (1988).
- Bath became the first woman to be elected as an honorary staff member at UCLA.
- While Bath studied at Howard University, she co-founded the Student National Medical Association and worked on the Poor People’s Campaign.
- Bath coined the phrase Community Ophthalmology, which pushed for using public health approaches to eradicate preventable blindness. This was during her time at Harlem Harlem Clinic and Columbia University which brought to her attention the disparities between black and white communities noting that a lack of ophthalmic care led to higher rates of blindness in black communities vs. white.
- While she practiced at UCLA, she founded the Ophthalmic Assistant Training Program (OATP) in 1978.
- Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1978 and served as president.
- Bath established the Keratoprosthesis Program while at UCLA to provide advanced surgical procedures for blind patients.
Dr. Patricia Bath conducted her work with a drive and passion for bettering communities around the world, no matter what odds were against her. Growing up during the Civil rights era in the USA did not hinder her belief that she could be the best in her field. In her interview with the Lemelson Center above, she says “Having faith and belief in the power of your own ideas.”
This, among many other things, we hope are your takeaways from this amazing pioneer in the Opthamology field. Dr. Patricia Bath passed away on May 30th 2019, but her work and beliefs still live on.
#BlackHistoryMonth #Bohten #WeSeeYou.
*Bôhten does not own the rights to any images used above. All images were sourced from Dr. Patricia Bath's website https://drpatriciabath.com/*