Picture of Bath
November 4, 1942 ,|
New York, US
|Occupation||Ophthalmologist, Inventor, Humanitarian|
|Known for||Invention of Laserphaco Probe|
Patricia Era Bath (born November 4, 1942, Harlem, Manhattan, New York City) is an American ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic. She was 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 (an honor bestowed on her after her retirement). Bath was the first black person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University. She is also the first black woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. Bath is the first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. The holder of four patents, she also founded the non-profit American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington, D.C.
Early life and education
Born on November 4, 1942, in Harlem, New York, Bath is the daughter of Rupert and Gladys Bath. 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. Her father inspired her love for culture and encouraged her to explore different cultures. Her mother was descended from African slaves. She decided to be a homemaker while her children were young, then later became a housekeeper to help fund the education of her children. Bath attended Charles Evans Hughes High School where she excelled rapidly, obtaining her diploma in just two-and-a-half years.
Inspired by Albert Schweitzer's work in medicine, 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. The head of the research program realized the significance of her findings and published them in a scientific paper. In 1960, still a teenager, Bath won the "Merit Award" of Mademoiselle magazine for her contribution to the project.
Bath received her Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from Manhattan's Hunter College in 1964. She relocated to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University College of Medicine to receive her doctoral degree in 1968. During her time at Howard, she was President of the Student National Medical Association and received fellowships from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Bath interned at Harlem Hospital Center, subsequently serving as a fellow at Columbia University. Bath traveled to Yugoslavia in 1967 to study children's health, observing that the practice of eye care was uneven among racial minorities and poor populations; she subsequently noted the much higher incidence of blindness among her black and poor patients. She determined that she would address this issue. She persuaded her professors from Columbia to operate on blind patients, without charge, at Harlem Hospital Center, which had not previously offered eye surgery. Bath pioneered the worldwide discipline of "community ophthalmology", a volunteer-based outreach to bring necessary eye care to underserved populations.
After completing her education, Bath served briefly as an assistant professor at Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science before becoming the first woman on faculty at the Eye Institute. In 1978, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, for which she served as president. In 1983, she became the head of a residency in her field at Charles R. Drew, the first woman ever to head such a department. In 1993, she 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. She was among the co-founders of the King-Drew Medical Center ophthalmology training program.
Bath has lectured internationally and authored over 100 papers.
Bath holds four patents in the United States. In 1981, she conceived 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, making her the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a medical purpose. 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. Bath has continued to improve the device and has successfully restored vision to people who have been unable to see for decades.
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. A picture book on her life and work in science was published in 2017, 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.
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