Patricia Era Bath (born November 4, 1942, Harlem, New York) is an ophthalmologist credited as the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. Bath received the patent in 1988 for an “Apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses”, a version of a device designed to help remove cataracts with a fiberoptic laser. It is sometimes falsely cited that Bath was the original inventor of this type of device, which became prominent during the mid 1970s.
Bath graduated with a baccalaureate degree from Hunter College in 1964, then from Howard University School of Medicine in 1968. She was the first female ophthalmologist at UCLA’s prestigious Jules Stein Eye Institute and the first female African American surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center.
Research and academia career
At the beginning of her career, Bath became aware of the higher rate of blindness suffered by impoverished urban African-Americans. Along with several colleagues, Bath conceived a system of community ophthalmology, where volunteers trained in eye care visited senior centers, daycare centers, and schools to test vision and screen for eye ailments such as cataracts and glaucoma. This system reduced the incidence of eye disease and blindness in the African-American community.
Bath was also instrumental in bringing ophthalmic surgical services to Harlem Hospital’s Eye Clinic, which did not perform eye surgery in 1968. She persuaded her professors at Columbia to operate on blind patients for free, and she volunteered as an assistant surgeon. The first major eye operation at Harlem Hospital was performed in 1970 as a result of her efforts.
In 1974 Bath joined the faculty of UCLA and Charles R. Drew University as an assistant professor of surgery at Drew and ophthalmology at UCLA. The following year she became the first woman faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. By 1983 she was chair of the ophthalmology residency training program at Drew-UCLA, the first woman in the USA to hold such a position.
After her time at UCLA and Drew, Bath conducted her research at Laser Medical Center of Berlin, West Germany, the Rothschild Eye Institute of Paris, France, and the Loughborough Institute of Technology, England.
American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness
In 1977, she and three other colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, an organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the sense of sight. The Institute supports global initiatives to provide newborn infants with protective anti-infection eye drops, to ensure that children who are malnourished receive vitamin A supplements essential for vision, and to vaccinate children against diseases (such as measles) that can lead to blindness.
As director of AIPB, Bath has traveled widely, performing surgery, teaching new medical techniques, and donating equipment in many industrialized and developing countries.
In 1993, Bath retired from UCLA Medical Center and was appointed to the honorary medical staff. Since then, she has been an advocate of telemedicine, the use of electronic communication to provide medical services to remote areas where health care is limited. She has held positions in telemedicine at Howard University and St. George’s University in Grenada