Author: Sara Habibipour
Dr. Patricia Era Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, was instrumental in the advancements in advocation for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. Her accomplishments include the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco, the creation of a new discipline known as "community ophthalmology," and appointment as the first woman chair of ophthalmology in the United States, at Drew-UCLA in 1983.
As a medical intern in New York City in the 1960s, Dr. Bath had a life-changing experience as the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency. There, she noticed that rates of blindness and visual impairment were much higher at the Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic, which served many black patients, than at the eye clinic at Columbia University, which mostly served whites. This racial inequality in medicine spurred her to conduct a study that found twice the rate of blindness among African-Americans compared with whites. Soon after she created the discipline of community ophthalmology, which approaches vision care from the perspectives of community medicine and public health. She also came up with the idea for the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical tool that uses a laser to vaporize cataracts via a 1-millimeter incision into the patient's eye. She was the first black female physician to receive a medical patent in 1988 for the Laserphaco Probe.
In 1976, Dr. Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness which supports programs that protect, preserve, and restore eyesight. Dr. Bath was also the first woman to be appointed the chair of ophthalmology at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine in 1983.