Patricia Bath

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Dr. Patricia Era Bath
Dr. Patricia Era Bath

(1942-11-04)November 4, 1942
DiedMay 30, 2019(2019-05-30) (aged 76)
Alma materHunter College (B.A.)
Howard University (M.D.)
OccupationOphthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian
Known forInvention of Laserphaco Probe

[1]Dr. Patricia Era Bath (November 4, 1942 – May 30, 2019) was an American ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic. She was the inventor of laser cataract surgery.Her invention was called Lazerphaco Probe. She also became the first woman member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology, and first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first African-American person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University. She was also the first African-American woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. The holder of five patents,[2] she also founded the non-profit American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington, D.C.

Early life and education[edit]

Born 1942, in Harlem, New York, Patricia Bath was the daughter of Rupert and Gladys Bath.[3] Her father was an immigrant from Trinidad, a newspaper columnist, a merchant seaman and the first black man to work for the New York City Subway as a motorman.[4][5] Her father inspired her love for culture and encouraged her to explore different cultures.[6] Her mother was descended from African slaves and Cherokee Native Americans.[4]Throughout her childhood, Bath was often told by her parents to "never settle for less than [her] best" and had been encouraged by their support of her education. Her mother, encouraging her dreams and love of science, had bought her her first chemistry set. Gladys Bath decided to be a homemaker while her children were young, then later became a housekeeper to help fund the education of her children.[4] Patricia and her brother attended Charles Evans Hughes High School where both students excelled in science and math. Patricia was inspired by her teachers to pursue research.[1]In high school, Bath also was further encouraged in biology courses to explore her love of science, spending extra time in biology labs to learn more.

Inspired by Albert Schweitzer's work in medicine,[5] Bath applied for and won a National Science Foundation Scholarship while attending high school; this led her to a research project at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital Center studying connections between cancer, nutrition, and stress.[7][8]In this summer program, led by Rabbi Moses D. Tendler, Bath had studied the effects of streptomycin residue on bacteria. Through this, she was able to conclude that cancer, itself, was a catabolic disease and tumor growth was a symptom.[9][10] She had also discovered a mathematical equation that could be used to predict cancer cell growth. The head of the research program realized the significance of her findings and published them in a scientific paper.[6] Her discoveries were also shared at the International Fifth Congress of Nutrition in the fall of 1960.

In 1960, at the age of eighteen years old, Bath won a "Merit Award" of Mademoiselle magazine for her contribution to the project.[5]

Bath received her Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from Manhattan's Hunter College in 1964. [3] She then relocated to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University College of Medicine. Her freshman year at Howard coincided with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She co-founded the Student National Medical Association and became its first woman president in 1965. At Howard, she was awarded a Children's Bureau National Government Fellowship Award to do research in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in the summer of 1967, where her research focused on pediatric surgery. [11]The highlight of the award ceremony was the meeting of Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, at the US Embassy in Belgrade. Bath graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine in 1968. She was awarded the Edwin Watson Prize for Excellence in Ophthalmology by her mentor, Lois A. Young.

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 caused Bath to dedicate herself to achieving one of the dreams of King, namely the empowerment of people through the Poor People's Campaign. She organized and led Howard University medical students in providing volunteer health care services to the Poor People's Campaign in Resurrection City in the summer of 1968.[12]

Bath returned to her Harlem community and interned at Harlem Hospital Center, which had just become affiliated with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. During her internship, she observed large proportions of blind patients at Harlem Hospital in comparison to patients at the Columbia University Eye Clinic. Prior to beginning her ophthalmology residency study at NYU in 1970, she was awarded a one-year fellowship from Columbia University to study and contribute to eye care services at Harlem Hospital. She began to collect data on blindness and visual impairment at Harlem Hospital, which did not have any ophthalmologists on staff. Her data and passion for improvement persuaded her professors from Columbia to operate on blind patients, without charge, at Harlem Hospital Center,[13] which had not previously offered eye surgery.[1] Bath was proud to be on the Columbia team that performed the first eye surgery at Harlem Hospital in November 1969.

She served her residency in ophthalmology at New York University, from 1970 to 1973, the first African American to do so.[5][4]She also got married and had a daughter, Eraka, in 1972.


After completing her residency at NYU, Bath began a Corneal fellowship program at Columbia University, which focused on corneal transplantation and keratoprosthesis surgery (1973 to 1974). While a fellow, she was recruited by both the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute and Charles R. Drew University to co-found an ophthalmology residency program at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital. She then began her career in Los Angeles, becoming the first woman ophthalmologist on the faculty at Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. She was appointed assistant chief of the King-Drew-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program in 1974, and was appointed chief in 1983.[14]

At both institutions, she rose to the rank of associate professor. At UCLA, she founded the Ophthalmic Assistant Training Program (OATP) in 1978. The graduates of the OATP are key personnel to provide screening, health education, and support for blindness prevention strategies.[4][7] [15]

While at UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute, she established the Keratoprosthesis Program to provide advanced surgical treatment for blind patients. The program continues today as the KPRO and thousands of patients have had their eyesight restored with this innovative technology. Based on her research and achievements with keratoprosthesis, Bath was chosen to lead the first national keratoprosthesis study in 1983.[16]

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.[5][4]

While at UCLA, Dr. 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. [14]In 1986, Bath elected to take a sabbatical from clinical and administrative responsibilities and concentrate on research. She resigned her position as chair of ophthalmology and followed her research pursuits as visiting professor at centers of excellence in France, England and Germany. In France, she served as visiting professor at the Rothschilde Eye Institute of Paris with Director, Daniele Aron-Rosa. In England, she served as visiting professor with Professor Emmony at the Loughborough Institute of Technology. In Germany, she served as visiting professor at the University of Free Berlin and the laser medical center.

In 1993, she retired from UCLA, which subsequently elected her the first woman on its honorary staff.[4][5]

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[15][17] ophthalmology training program.[18] Being a strong advocate for telemedicine, Dr. Bath had 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 Dr. 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.[19]

Bath has lectured internationally and authored over 100 papers.[18]

Blindness studies and community ophthalmology[edit]

Based on her observations at Harlem Hospital, Bath published the first scientific paper showing the higher prevalence of blindness among Blacks.[20][21] Bath also found that African American people had eight times higher prevalence of glaucoma as a cause of blindness.[22]

Based on her research, she pioneered the worldwide discipline of "community ophthalmology" in 1976[23] after observations of epidemics rates of preventable blindness among under-served populations in urban areas in the US as well as under-served populations in "third-world" countries.[20][24] Community ophthalmology was described as a new discipline in medicine promoting eye health and blindness prevention through programs utilizing methodologies of public health, community medicine and ophthalmology to bring necessary eye care to under-served populations.[4]

Humanitarian work[edit]

Bath's main humanitarian efforts can be seen through her work at The American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Co-founded in 1976 with Alfred Cannon, an American psychiatrist and community organizer, and Aaron Ifekwunigwe, a Nigerian-born pediatrician and human rights advocate, this organization had been created on the principle that "eyesight was a basic human right." Through this organization, Bath was able to spread eye care throughout the globe by providing newborns with free eye drops, vitamins for malnourishment, and vaccinations against diseases that can cause blindness, like measles. Bath was able to spend her time as director traveling the world performing surgeries, teaching and lecturing at colleges. [25][26] Bath claims her "personal best moment" was while she was in North Africa and using keratoprosthesis, was able to restore the sight of a woman who been blind for over 30 years.[27]

Through this organization, Bath traveled to Tanzania in 2005, where cataracts had become the lead cause of childhood blindness during this time.[28] In Africa, the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness provided computers and other digital resources for visually impaired students, specifically at the Mwereni School for the Blind in Tanzania and St. Oda School for the Visually Impaired in Kenya. [26]

Bath was also recognized for her philanthropic work in the field of ophthalmology by President Barack Obama. In 2009, she was on stage with President Obama and was put on his commission for digital accessibility to blind children. [29]

In April 2019, Bath testified in a hearing called the "Trailblazers and Lost Einsteins: Women Inventors and the Future of American Innovation" at the Senate Office Building in Washington D.C., where Bath had shown the gender disparities in the STEM field and lack of female inventors.[30]


In 1986, Bath did research in the laboratory of Danièle Aron-Rosa, a pioneer researcher in lasers and ophthalmology at Rothschilde Eye Institute of Paris,[31] and then at the Laser Medical Center in Berlin, where she was able to begin early studies in laser cataract surgery, including her first experiment with excimer laser photoablation using human eye bank eyes.[31]

Bath coined the term "Laser phaco" for the process, short for laser PHotoAblative Cataract surgery,[32] and developed the laserphaco probe, a medical device that improves on the use of lasers to remove cataracts, and "for ablating and removing cataract lenses". The device was completed in 1986 after Bath conducted research on lasers in Berlin and patented in 1988,[33] making her the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a medical purpose.[7] The device — which quickly and nearly painlessly dissolves the cataract with a laser, irrigates and cleans the eye and permits the easy insertion of a new lens — is used internationally to treat the disease.[4][3][5] Bath has continued to improve the device and has successfully restored vision to people who have been unable to see for decades.[15][34]

Bath holds five patents in the United States.[2] Three of Bath's five patents relate to the Laserphaco Probe.[15] In 2000, she was granted a patent for a method for using pulsed ultrasound to remove cataracts,[5] and in 2003 a patent for combining laser and ultrasound to remove cataracts.

List of U.S. patents[edit]


Bath died on May 30, 2019, at a University of California, San Francisco medical center from cancer-related complications, aged 76.[35][36]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 1995: NAACP Legal Defense Fund Black Woman Achievement Award[37]
  • 1999: Smithsonian Museum included her in their Innovative Lives Exhibition and Program[citation needed]
  • 2001: American Medical Women’s Association induction into Hall of Fame[14]
  • 2006: Tubman's Sheila Award[38]
  • 2011: American Academy of Ophthalmology induction into the Museum of Vision for contributions to Ophthalmology[citation needed]
  • 2012: Tribeca Film Festival Disruptive Innovation Award[39]
  • 2013: Association of Black Women Physicians Lifetime Achievement Award for Ophthalmology Contributions[citation needed]
  • 2014: Alpha Kappa Alpha Presidential Award for Health and medical Sciences[40]
  • 2014: Howard University Charter Day Award for Distinguished Achievement in Ophthalmology and Medicine[citation needed]
  • 2017: Medscape one of 12 "Women Physicians who Changed the Course of American Medicine"[41]
  • 2017: Time Magazine "Firsts: Women Who Are Changing the World” for being the first to invent and demonstrate laserphaco cataract surgery[42]
  • 2017: Hunter College Hall of Fame induction[43]
  • 2018: New York Academy of Medicine John Stearns Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Clinical Practice, for invention of laserphaco cataract surgery[44]
  • 2018: Alliance for Aging research: Silver Innovator Award for contributions and research towards blindness prevention[45]

Dr. Bath had also been a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons from 1976 to 1989, a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, as well as a member of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.[37]

Bath has been honored by two of her universities. Hunter College placed her in its "hall of fame" in 1988 and Howard University declared her a "Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine" in 1993.[5] A picture book on her life and work in science was published in 2017,[17] and was cited by both the National Science Teachers Association and the Chicago Public Library's list of best children's books of the year.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Farmer, Vernon L.; Shepherd-Wynn, Evelyn (2012). Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers. ABC-CLIO. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0313392252.
  2. ^ a b Patricia E. Bath, Google patent search. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Wilson, Donald; Jane Wilson (2003). The Pride of African American History. AuthorHouse. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-4107-2873-9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Dr. Patricia E. Bath". Changing the Face of Medicine. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lambert, Laura (September 1, 2007). "Patricia Bath: Inventor of laser cataract surgery". Inventors and Inventions. Marshall Cavendish. 1: 69–74. ISBN 978-0-7614-7763-1.
  6. ^ a b "Patricia Bath – Inventor, Doctor, Educator". Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Henderson, Susan K. (1998). African-American Inventors III. Capstone Press. pp. 9–13. ISBN 978-1-56065-698-2.
  8. ^ Williams, James Henry (2011). African American Inventors and Pioneers. Xlibris Corporation. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4568-4000-6.
  9. ^ Osmundsen, John S (August 31, 1959). "28 Science-Minded Teen-Agers Report on Summer of Research: Such Heady Stuff as the Metabolism of Tritiated Thymidine in Mice Fails to faze Special Yeshiva Group". New York Times. Proquest.
  10. ^ "Teenage Scientist Is Named One of the Ten Young Women of The Year". Atlanta Daily World. Proquest. December 31, 1960.
  11. ^ Chamberlain, Gaius. "Patricia Bath | The Black Inventor Online Museum". Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  12. ^ Mazique, E. C. (1968). "Health services and the Poor People's Campaign". Journal of the National Medical Association. 60 (4): 332–333. PMC 2611562. PMID 5661208.
  13. ^ "Patricia Bath | Influential Women". Influential Women. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "Lessons I've Learned". The Ophthalmologist. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c d "Modern Black Inventors". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 101 (7): 55. February 4, 2002. ISSN 0021-5996. (pdf at google books)
  16. ^ Aquavella J.; Bath, P.; Buxton, G.; Cardona, H.; Dohlman, C.; Farris, L.; Girard, L.; McNeil, J.; Polack, F.; Waring, G. and; Also, D. Willard.; Helmsen, R.; Binder, P.; Groden, L. and; Fogle, J., "Keratoprosthesis Conference", Cornea, September 1983, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp. 229–236.
  17. ^ a b Mosca, Julia Finley (2017). The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath (Amazing Scientist). The Innovation Press. ISBN 9781943147311.
  18. ^ a b Group, Career Communications (October–November 1997). "1997 Women of Color". U.S. Black Engineer & IT: 42. ISSN 1088-3444.
  19. ^ Bath, Patricia E. (June 1998). "Cataract Surgery Training of Residents in an Urban and Virtual Environment". Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery. 24 (6): 727–729. doi:10.1016/S0886-3350(98)80118-1. ISSN 0886-3350. PMID 9642577. S2CID 7409725.
  20. ^ a b Bath, Patricia E. (February 1979). "Rationale for a program in community ophthalmology". J Natl Med Assoc. 71 (2): 145–8. PMC 2537323. PMID 423288.
  21. ^ Bath, Patricia E. (October 1990). "Blacks at Greater Risk of Blindness," Archives of Ophthalmology, 108, pp. 1377–8.
  22. ^ Kermode-Scott, Barbara (July 19, 2019). "Patricia Bath: ophthalmologist, inventor, and humanitarian". BMJ: l4768. doi:10.1136/bmj.l4768. ISSN 0959-8138. S2CID 199609085.
  23. ^ "U.S. Ophthalmologist, Dr. Patricia E. Bath first defined the term community ophthalmoogy in her 1976 presentation to the American Public Health Association meeting in Miami, Florida." Source: Logan D. A. Williams, "Introduction", Eradicating Blindness: Global Health Innovation from South Asia, Springer, August 20, 2018, p. 9.
  24. ^ Bath, Patricia E. (May 1978). "Blindness Prevention Through Program in Community Ophthalmology in Developing Countries[permanent dead link]", Excerpta Medica Series 442, Amsterdam, Oxford CCIII International Congress of Ophthalmology, 1913–1915.
  25. ^ Kennon, Caroline (December 15, 2017). Hidden No More: African American Women in STEM Careers. Greenhaven Publishing LLC. ISBN 978-1-5345-6243-1.
  26. ^ a b "American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness". Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  27. ^ "Dr. patricia bath's genius helped eye doctors". Philadelphia Tribune. February 12, 2017.
  28. ^ Bowman, R. J. C. (October 2005). "How should blindness in children be managed?". Eye. 19 (10): 1037–1043. doi:10.1038/sj.eye.6701988. ISSN 1476-5454. PMID 16304582.
  29. ^ President, United States (2009). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration.
  30. ^ "Trailblazers and Lost Einsteins: Women Inventors and the Future of American Innovation | United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary". Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  31. ^ a b American Academy of Ophthalmology, Conversation Between Patricia Bath, MD and Eve Higginbotham, MD, Orlando, FL, October 23, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
  32. ^ Bath, P. E., "Laserphaco: an introduction and review," Ophthalmic Laser Therapy, Vol 3, no. 2 (1988), pp. 75–82.
  33. ^ Patricia E. Bath, US Patent 4,744,360, Apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses, issued May 17, 1988 (filed December 18, 1986). Retrieved February 24, 2019
  34. ^ Stewart, David (2005). What's the Big Idea?. Salariya Publishers. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-904642-56-5.
  35. ^ "Cataract treatment inventor Dr. Patricia Smith dies at 76". The Washington Post. June 4, 2019.
  36. ^ Green, Andrew (August 10, 2019). "Patricia Bath - Obituary". The Lancet. 394 (10197): 464. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31684-8. ISSN 0140-6736.
  37. ^ a b joannvastola. "Patricia E. Bath, January 1999". St. George's University. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  38. ^ Ramati, Philip (September 30, 2006). "Accomplished doctor/inventor to be honored with Tubman's Shelia Award". McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
  39. ^ "Dr. Patricia Bath – Laserphaco". Disruptor Awards. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  40. ^ "The Distinguished Women of Alpha Kappa Alpha". The Shadow League. January 15, 2016. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  41. ^
  42. ^ "THE INVENTOR: Patricia Bath | First person to invent and demonstrate laserphaco cataract surgery", Firsts, Time.
  43. ^ "Hispanic Federation President Jose Calderón Inducted Into The Hunter College Hall of Fame by Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab", Hunter College.
  44. ^ "The 171st Anniversary Discourse & Awards and Annual Meeting of the Voting Fellows", The New York Academy of Medicine, November 1, 2018.
  45. ^ "25th Annual Bipartisan Congressional Awards Dinner", Alliance for Aging Research, October 2, 2018.

External links[edit]