Patricia E. Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, is an innovative research scientist and advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. Her accomplishments include the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco, the creation of a new discipline known as “community ophthalmology,” and appointment as the first woman chair of ophthalmology in the United States, at Drew-UCLA in 1983.
Patricia Bath’s dedication to a life in medicine began in childhood, when she first heard about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s service to lepers in the Congo. After excelling in her studies in high school and university and earning awards for scientific research as early as age sixteen, Dr. Bath embarked on a career in medicine.
She received her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., interned at Harlem Hospital from 1968 to 1969, and completed a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University from 1969 to 1970. Following her internship, Dr. Bath completed her training at New York University between 1970 and 1973, where she was the first African American resident in ophthalmology.
In 1974 Bath joined the faculty of UCLA and Charles R. Drew University as an assistant professor of surgery (Drew) and ophthalmology (UCLA). The following year she became the first woman faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. By 1983 she was chair of the ophthalmology residency training program at Drew-UCLA, the first woman in the USA to hold such a position.
Dr. Bath is also a laser scientist and inventor. Her interest, experience, and research on cataracts lead to her invention of a new device and method to remove cataracts—the laserphaco probe. When she first conceived of the device in 1981, her idea was more advanced than the technology available at the time.
It took her nearly five years to complete the research and testing needed to make it work and apply for a patent. Today the device is use worldwide. With the keratoprosthesis device, Dr. Bath was able to recover the sight of several individuals who had been blind for over 30 years.
In 1993, Bath retired from UCLA Medical Center and was appointed to the honorary medical staff. Since then, she has been an advocate of telemedicine, the use of electronic communication to provide medical services to remote areas where health care is limited. She has held positions in telemedicine at Howard University and St. George’s University in Grenada.