Patricia Era Bath was born on November 4, 1942, in Harlem, New York. Her father, Rupert Bath was the first Black motorman for the New York City subway system, a former Merchant Marine, and newspaper columnist. Her mother Gladys worked as a domestic, saving her earnings for her children’s education.
When Bath was just a young girl, her mother bought her a chemistry set which piqued her interest in science. She worked diligently on her academics and by the age of 16, became one of few students selected to attend a cancer research workshop that was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
While enrolled in the program, Bath made impressive discoveries. The program head, Dr. Robert Bernard, was so impressed with Bath’s findings, that he included them in a scientific paper that he had written. Bath gained significant notoriety and earned her the Mademoiselle magazine’s Merit Award in 1960.
After only two years in high school, Bath graduated. She was then off to Hunter College. She graduated from there in 1964 and then immediately began working on her medical degree at Howard University. She graduated with honors in 1968. Shortly thereafter, she began an internship at Harlem Hospital.
Bath was later awarded a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University. While at Columbia, she discovered that Black patients were twice as likely to go blind and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. From her research, she established a community ophthalmology system which provided eye care for underserved communities.
By 1973, Bath became the first Black person to complete an ophthalmology residency. She then moved to California in 1974 in order to work as an assistant professor of surgery at Charles R. Drew University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She was the first woman to become a faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA.
Bath later co-established the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. The organization determined that eyesight is a basic right. She then assisted in the creation of the Ophthalmology programs at UCLA and Charles R. Drew University. She acted as the chair of the organization, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to hold that position.
In 1986, Bath shared her invention, the Laserphaco Probe, with the world. Her invention harnessed laser technology in order to develop a less painful treatment for cataracts. Her invention was patented in 1988 and she became the first Black female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Her device allowed her to cure blindness in a number of people.
Bath retired from her teaching position with UCLA in 1993. She soon became an honorary member of the UCLA staff. Later on, she was given the title of “Pioneer in Academic Medicine” by Howard University. At the age of 75, Patricia Bath continues to advocate for telemedicine which utilizes technology to provide medical services to remote areas.
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