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Women’s Hall of Fame welcomes Dr. Patricia Bath


An innovator in ophthalmology

To start Women’s History Month on the right note, The National Women Hall of Fame will introduce their new members on March 5. Their new members are tennis champion Serena Williams, pioneering scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, educational innovator Peggy McIntosh, Dr. Patrica Bath, and six other trailblazing women. Dr. Patrica Bath may be an unknown figure to most, but in the medical world, she is a pioneer and innovator of present technology in eyesight.

Bath was born in 1942 in Harlem, NY, to a Trinidadian father and a Native Indian mother. From an early age, Bath was encouraged by her parents to strive for the best and never settle for being average, and Bath took that message throughout her life. By the time Bath reached high school, she was already a National Science Foundation scholar, and her work on cancer landed her on the front page of the New York Times. 

As time passed, the accolades continued to pile up for Bath, and her future career became clear. In 1964, during the height of the civil rights movement, Bath attended Howard University College of Medicine, where she co-founded the Student National Medical Association and became its first woman president in 1965. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Bath was dedicated to helping people and led Howard volunteers in providing volunteer health care services to the Poor People’s Campaign in Resurrection City in the summer of 1968. 

Bath returned to Harlem shortly after to continue her medical studies, interning at Harlem Hospital. While there, Bath noticed discrepancies in vision problems between the Black patient population at Harlem and the white one at Columbia University Eye Clinic, which was an affiliate of the hospital. She began collecting 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 begin operating on blind patients, without charge, at Harlem Hospital Center. Bath was proud to be on the Columbia team that performed the first eye surgery at Harlem Hospital in November 1969.

After completing her residency in 1974, she was recruited by 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 began her career in Los Angeles, becoming the first woman ophthalmologist at Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. In the early 1980s, her work with cataract patients and related research led her to create a laser technology to remove cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye. 

After a few years of research, Bath came up with the process of cataract surgery and developed the laser phaco probe in 1986, a medical device that improves the use of lasers to remove cataracts and “for ablating and removing cataract lenses”. 

Bath patented her new device in 1988, becoming the first Black woman to receive a patent for medical purposes. Bath owns five patents for methods and devices centered around eye surgery. “My mom was an incredible woman who pushed the barriers and set a new standard for women.” Dr. Eraka Bath is the daughter of Dr. Patrica Bath, and is an adolescent and forensic psychiatrist. ““I’m glad she is being honored for her achievements in the medical field as it revolutionized cataract surgery.”