Patricia Bath

In Memoriam: Patricia Bath, 1942-2019

May 30, 2019

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 the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent, first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology, and first African-American female surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center.  Bath is known for her use of lasers for more precise cataract treatment, a technique known as PhotoAblative Cataract surgery and utilized her laserphaco probe.

Bath was active with The Optical Society and The Optical Society Foundation. She recently spoke at an OSA Foundation Board event at the University of Southern California 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 have strong role models and sponsors. Dr. Bath was interviewed by OSA and speaks of the importance of science and engaging young people in STEM fields. 

Bath was originally from New York City and developed an interest in science at a young age. She was the recipient of a National Science Foundation scholarship while in high school. Bath would have the opportunity to do research focused on the connections between cancer, nutrition, and stress at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital Center. Bath completed her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine.  Following her 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 do an ophthalmology residency at New York University, after which she moved to California to join the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. During her time at UCLA, Bath would co-found and became the first woman to lead an ophthalmology residency program.

Bath held five patents and lectured internationally. She authored over 100 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 dedicated to the prevention of blindness through education, community service, research and compassionate eye care services. AiPB is located in Washington, DC, and continues to serve the community. 

OSA and the scientific community mourns the loss of Dr. Patricia Bath.