February 22, 2021
Medical scientist Patricia E. Bath was born November 4, 1942 in Harlem, New York, the daughter of a Trinidadian immigrant father and Cherokee Native mother who was a descendant of African slaves.
Bath developed an interest in science early in her life while attending school at Charles Evans Hughes High School. Patricia received a grant in 1959 from the National Science Foundation to attend the Summer Institute in Biomedical Science at Yeshiva University in New York. She worked on a project studying the relationship between cancer, nutrition, and stress and this institute. Graduating from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry, she went on to attend Howard University Medical School. Ms. Bath graduated with honors in 1968 winning the Edwin J. Watson Prize for Outstanding Student in Ophthalmology.
From 1970 until 1973, Bath was the first African American resident in ophthalmology at New York University’s School of Medicine. Bath first conceived her invention, the Laserphaco Probe in 1981, and decided to learn more about laser technology traveling to Berlin University in Germany to study the skill. During the next five years, she developed, tested and produced a model laser instrument that could be tested. The Laserphaco Probe was patented in 1988. The probe is used during eye surgery to correct cataracts, an eye condition that clouds vision and leads to blindness. The Laserphaco Probe was a less invasive, less risky and more precise than previous devices and is currently used around the world.
Mrs. Bath’s list of “firsts” are many: First African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology; the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States and the first African American female doctor to secure a medical patent. To complete this list is her status as co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Bath was inducted into the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame in 2001.
We salute you, Patricia Bath and thank you for your groundbreaking work in the field of ophthalmology!