This February, we are excited to be celebrating Black History Month! With endless prominent figures to highlight, it seems only fitting that we focus on someone who played a crucial role in the advancement of eye care.  Join us as we celebrate the first African American to obtain a patent for a medical invention, Dr. Patricia Era Bath. She helped lay the groundwork for the way cataract surgery is performed today with her invention of the Laserphaco probe in the 1980s.   

Professional photo of Dr. Patricia Bath
Photo from Ophthalmology Times

Patricia Era Bath, MD (1942 – 2019)

Dr. Patricia Bath has certainly made boundless strides in the ophthalmology community. Born in 1942 in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, she took school seriously as a child and was encouraged by her family to focus on education. She graduated high school in only two years, then went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in 1964, followed by her medical degree in 1968.

Early on in her career, she noticed variances between the status of patients vision, depending on the hospital she was attending at. The hospitals with more African American patients had significantly more patients who were visually impaired or even blind, likely due to lack of access to eye care. Sparked from this discovery, she created a discipline called Community Ophthalmology, offering eye care to those who couldn’t afford it.

1973 was a historic year, as Dr. Bath became the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency. Not long after, the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute welcomed her as the first female faculty member. In addition to these incredible accomplishments, Dr. Patricia Bath invented the Laserphaco probe in the 1980s, offering cataract patients a more efficient and painless cataract removal procedure. When this technology was patented in 1988, it was another milestone for Dr. Bath, as she became the first African American female physician to receive a medical patent. This technology is still used across the globe and we couldn’t be more grateful for Dr. Bath’s contributions to the world of vision.

Resources: https://www.biography.com/scientist/patricia-bath