OSA Mourns the Loss of Dr. Patricia Bath, Ophthalmology Pioneer, Inventor and Role Model

Optics leader was an African-American woman of many firsts 

WASHINGTON -- Dr. Patricia Bath, a pioneer in the field of ophthalmology and inventor of the laserphaco probe, has passed away at the age of 76. Bath was an African-American woman doctor of many firsts: to receive a medical patent, to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology and appointed surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center, U.S.A. Bath is known for her use of lasers for more precise cataract treatment, a technique known as photo-ablative cataract surgery and utilized her laserphaco probe.

Caption: Dr. Patricia Bath 

Credit: The OSA Foundation  

Bath was active with The Optical Society and The OSA Foundation. In October 2018, she spoke at an OSA Foundation Board event at the University of Southern California, U.S.A., focusing on the importance of mentoring the next generation of inventors and innovators.  She shared the impact her mentors had on her career, stressing the need for young women in STEM to have strong role models and sponsors. Bath was interviewed by OSA and speaks of the importance of science and engaging young people in STEM fields.

“Patricia Bath was a determined leader in optics, despite the many discrimination hurtles she overcame,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth A. Rogan. “She both positively changed the view on what a woman in science can accomplish plus invented a life-enhancing procedure.”

Bath was originally from New York City and developed an interest in science at a young age. She was the recipient of a U.S. National Science Foundation scholarship while in high school and participated in research focused on the connections between cancer, nutrition and stress at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital Center, both in the U.S. She completed her undergraduate degree at Hunter College, U.S.A., and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, U.S.A.  Following graduation, Bath completed a fellowship at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she studied blindness and visual impairment. Bath was the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency at New York University, U.S.A., after which she joined the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. During her time there, Bath co-founded and became the first woman to lead an ophthalmology residency program.

Bath held five patents and lectured internationally. She authored more than 100 scientific papers and received numerous recognitions throughout her career. Bath will be remembered not only for her pioneering inventions and impact on ophthalmology, but also for her humanitarian activities. In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AiPB), a non-profit organization in the U.S., dedicated to the prevention of blindness through education, community service, research and compassionate eye care services. AiPB is located in Washington, D.C., and continues to serve the community. 

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