Written by Heather Mason.
Posted on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Nov 4, 2017.

Dr. Patricia Bath was born November 4, 1942, and went on to become the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent for her invention of the Laserphaco Probe. She was also the first African American to complete a medical residency in ophthalmology and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Born in Harlem, New York, Patricia’s family valued education. When she was young, her mother even bought her a chemistry set and by age 16, Patricia attended a workshop put on by the National Science Foundation. Work she did at the event was even included in a scientific paper and in 1960 Patricia received a Merit Award from Mademoiselle magazine.

After only two years, Patricia graduated high school. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1964 and then attended Howard University to pursue medicine. After graduating from Howard in 1968, Patricia interned at Harlem Hospital before attending Columbia University to study ophthalmology and in 1973 became the first African American to complete a residency in the field.

While studying ophthalmology, Patricia learned that there were certain eye conditions African Americans were more likely to experience. They were twice as likely to experience blindness and 8x more likely to suffer from glaucoma than white people. This knowledge encouraged her to work on improving eye care in underserved communities.

In 1975, Patricia became the first female member of faculty in UCLA’s ophthalmology department and in 1976, she founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness — an organization which believes that “eyesight is a basic human right” and seeks to eradicate all forms of preventable blindness by 2020.

In addition to her work to prevent blindness, Patricia began working on what would be her most famous invention: the Laserphaco Probe. In 1988, she became the first female African-American doctor to receive a medical patent. The Laserphaco Probe provided a better treatment for cataracts (which can cause blindness) through the use of lasers. The device allowed her to restore sight in patients — some of which had been blind for over 30 years!

Patricia also created an approach known as “community ophthalmology”, which provides services to communities underserved medically. She also advocates for telemedicine which uses technology to provide medical access for those living in remote areas. Patricia also traveled to many of these places to teach new techniques, perform surgeries, and speak to other doctors.

In 1993, Patricia retired from UCLA Medical Center but continues her work with the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and as an advocate for those who don’t have access to much-needed medical care.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Patricia Bath! You’re an inspiration to us all.