Dr Patricia Bath 1942-2019.
Dr Bath smashed many glass ceilings during her long career, to name a few. She was the first African American to serve a residency in ophthalmology at NYU, the first female ophthalmologist to join the Jules Stein Institute, and the first African American woman to hold a medical patent. The catalogue of firsts to Dr Bath’s name highlights the systemic racism and sexism faced by black women. Dr Bath took a sabbatical in Europe to focus on the research that led to her first patent, in part due to the racism and sexism that present in American academia.
Dr Bath researched at specialised laser laboratories in Paris and Berlin where she was able to perform experiments for a pioneering method of cataract surgery. The landscape of ophthalmology and non-invasive procedures more widely were changed when she developed the “laserphaco” process and the Laserphaco Probe. By using lasers, her device was less invasive and more precise than earlier surgical methods. She patented the Laserphaco Probe in 1988 and the device is still used globally to treat cataracts.
Dr Patricia Bath was an extraordinary scientist that left an indelible mark on ophthalmology in the face of adversity. Her combination of public health, community outreach, and ophthalmology into a single discipline, community ophthalmology, continues to be practiced across the globe. In 2017 when she was listed as one of the 14 Women Physicians who Changed the Course of American Medicine. Dr Bath passed away in 2019 leaving behind incredible contributions to medicine.