Patricia Era Bath
Bath was born to a Trinidadian father and African American and Native American mother in Harlem, New York. She had an early interest in science and at 16, Bath joined a summer research program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Her contributions that summer were included in a scientific publication. She completed medical school with honors at Howard University and trained in ophthalmology at NYU where she was the first African American resident in that discipline. During her intern years, Bath was stirred to conduct epidemiological research which revealed that the high and disparate prevalence of blindness among Blacks was due to limited access to ophthalmic care. This led her to introduce the discipline of community ophthalmology which is now practiced globally. This practice allows early detection and intervention and has saved the eyesight of thousands.
Bath joined the UCLA faculty in 1974 and by 1983, she became the first woman in the US to be appointed Chair of the ophthalmology residency training program at UCLA. In 1977, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, with the premise of eyesight being a basic human right. On her travels as director of the institute, Bath performed surgeries, taught new techniques and donated medical equipment. In 1986, after 5 years of research and testing, Bath developed a new device, the laserphaco probe, for surgically removing cataracts. With this, she could restore the sight of people who had been blind for even 30 years!
About her biggest obstacle, Bath said, “Sexism, racism, and relative poverty were the obstacles which I faced as a young girl growing up in Harlem. There were no women physicians I knew of and surgery was a male-dominated profession; no high schools existed in Harlem, a predominantly black community; additionally, blacks were excluded from numerous medical schools and medical societies; and, my family did not possess the funds to send me to medical school”. Bath passed on at age 76 in 2019 from cancer complications.