Celebrating Women in STEM: Dr. Patricia Bath

In this weekly column, contributor Maddie Weston highlights the achievements of women in science.
Check out UNEWS.COM each week to read about the incredible contributions of women to the STEM field.

 

Few women in STEM embody the spirit of perseverance and inspiration like Dr. Patricia Bath. While overcoming sexism, racism, and childhood poverty, Bath became one of the first African American women to lead cutting-edge innovation in Ophthalmology, the study of the eye.

Born in 1942, in Harlem, New York, young Bath was encouraged by her parents who believed in the value of education and supported her passion for science.

By 16, Bath was chosen for a summer program with the National Science Foundation. Her work during the program impressed the director, Dr. Robert O. Bernard, so much that he included her discoveries in a paper he presented at a 1960 international conference in Washington, D.C.

After completing high school in just two and a half years, Bath went on to finish her BA at Hunter College in New York, and her medical degree at Howard University.

Bath made her first impactful discovery during her Ophthalmology fellowship at Columbia University. She discovered African American patients were twice as likely as white patients to suffer blindness, and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma.

Bath concluded this increase was caused by lack of access to ophthalmic care and developed Community Ophthalmology; a now-worldwide discipline which provides basic eye care information and materials as a basic Public Health service.

In 1973, Bath became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology at NYU.

The following year, Bath became an assistant professor at UCLA and the Charles R. Drew University, becoming the first female faculty member in the UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, Department of Ophthalmology in 1975.

Initially, she was offered an office “in the basement next to the lab animals,” as her notes recall. “I didn’t say it was racist or sexist. I said it was inappropriate and succeeded in getting acceptable office space. I decided I was just going to do my work.”

That same year, she became the first African American woman to serve as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and she later co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AIPB) two years later to help establish “eyesight as a basic human right.”

Bath became the first female Ophthalmology Chair in the United States on 1983, while working at the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine.

Her research on cataracts lead to her invention of the Laserphaco Probe, adding inventor onto her resume of extensive academic achievements. The device, used for cataract removal, is still used today.

The device was so cutting-edge at its conception in 1981, it took nearly five years for Bath to complete trials and development. She was finally granted a U.S. patent in 1988.

Today, Dr. Bath is a member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, a Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a member of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, a Hunter College Hall of Fame member, an NAACP-LDF Black Woman of Achievement Award winner, and an International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame member.

     Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Meetings every Friday in the Women’s Center, 12 – 1 pm.

 

mew9bc@mail.umkc.edu

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