Born in Harlem, Dr. Patricia Bath became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in 1973. Bath worked hard on her intellectual pursuits and, at the age of 16, became one of only a few students to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program head, Dr. Robert Bernard, was so impressed with Bath’s discoveries during the project that he incorporated her findings in a scientific paper he presented at a conference. The publicity surrounding her discoveries earned Bath the Mademoiselle magazine’s Merit Award in 1960. After graduating from high school in only two years, Bath headed to Hunter College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She then attended Howard University to pursue a medical degree. Bath graduated with honors from Howard, and accepted an internship at Harlem Hospital shortly afterward. The following year, she also began pursuing a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University. Through her studies there, she discovered that African Americans were twice as likely to suffer from blindness than other patients to which she attended, and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. Her research led to her development of a community ophthalmology system, which increased the amount of eye care given to those who were unable to afford treatment. In 1973, Patricia Bath became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. She moved to California the following year to work as an assistant professor of surgery at both Charles R. Drew University and the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1975, she became the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which established that “eyesight is a basic human right.” Bath also helped create the Ophthalmology Residency Training program at UCLA-Drew, which she also chaired—becoming, in addition to her other firsts, the first woman in the nation to hold such a position. In 1981, Bath began working on her most well-known invention: the Laserphaco Probe. Harnessing laser technology, the device created a less painful and more precise treatment of cataracts. She received a patent for the device in 1988, becoming the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. (She also holds patents in Japan, Canada and Europe.) With her Laserphaco Probe, Bath was able to help restore the sight of individuals who had been blind for more than 30 years. Among her many roles in the medical field, Bath is a strong advocate of telemedicine, which uses technology to provide medical services in remote areas.