Celebrating Patricia Bath, Inventor of cataract tool

Black History Month – (3rd of a series)

By Allan Jamail

Patricia Bath was born in Harlem, New York in 1942 and would go on to become a pioneering ophthalmologist, inventor, and academic who is known for inventing a tool and procedure for the removal of cataracts using a laser beam, called the Laserphaco Probe.

She was the daughter of the first African-American motorman to work in the NYC subway. She would show an early interest and ability in science at a young age. This passion would drive her onwards and upwards. She died at the age of 76, on May 30, 2019.

In 1973, Bath became the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. She was the first woman ophthalmologist to be appointed to the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine Jules Stein Eye Institute and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States.

In the early 1980s, her work with cataract patients and related research led her to envision a method of using laser technology to remove cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye.

Bath took a special interest in combating preventable blindness in underserved populations and along the way became the first black female doctor to receive a medical patent — for a laser technique for treating cataracts.

Dr. Bath was an educator and researcher as well as a physician. She began her medical career in New York and in 1974 joined the faculties of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in that city.

When she was just out of medical school, working as an intern at Harlem Hospital and then at an eye clinic at Columbia University, she noticed discrepancies in vision problems between the largely black patient population at Harlem and the largely white one at Columbia. Her observations led her to document that blindness was twice as prevalent among black people as among white people — findings that instilled in her a lifelong commitment to bringing quality eye care to those who might not otherwise have access to it.

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