Dr. Patricia Era Bath was an American doctor, researcher, inventor, and advocate. Her accomplishments included being the first Black female doctor to patent a medical invention, creating the discipline of “community ophthalmology”, and being the first woman appointed as the chair of ophthalmology in the United States.
At the age of 16, Dr. Bath acquired a National Science Foundation (NSF) scholarship which led her to complete a research project that contributed new knowledge to our understanding of cancer. The director of the program was able to publish Dr. Bath’s work and at the age of 18, Dr. Bath was recognized for her scientific work with a Merit Award from Mademoiselle magazine.
Besides her curiosity for the science field, Dr. Bath’s work was highly inspired by her love for people and wanting to address health disparities. One of her notable quotes states: “My love of humanity and passion for helping others inspired me to become a physician.” Dr. Bath described her “personal best moment” as an instance on a humanitarian trip to North Africa where she restored the sight of a woman who had been blind for 30 years. Dr. Bath’s commitment to the prevention and treatment of blindness led her to develop the Cataract Laserphaco Probe. Her idea was conceived in 1981, took almost 5 years to research and test, and she patented it in 1988. The device made cataract removal a more quick and painless process. Dr. Bath’s observation of disproportionate rates of blindness among Black Americans compared to White Americans across medical sites led to her establishment of a new field of study called “community ophthalmology”, which incorporates preventative care and other approaches.
Dr. Bath shared that she faced several obstacles throughout her life in achieving education and her subsequent accomplishments. She was once quoted stating: “Sexism, racism, and relative poverty were the obstacles which I faced as a young girl growing up in Harlem. There were no women physicians I knew of and surgery was a male-dominated profession; no high schools existed in Harlem, a predominantly black community; additionally, blacks were excluded from numerous medical schools and medical societies; and, my family did not possess the funds to send me to medical school”. After retiring from UCLA Medical Center in 1993, Dr. Bath was dedicated to advocating for telemedicine as a means for individuals living in more rural areas to access the healthcare services that they need. Dr. Bath passed away in May of 2019.