The late Dr. Patricia Bath is a distinguished Black woman in the science and medicine field.

Early Days

Dr. Bath, born in Harlem, NY, on Nov. 4, 1942, is recognized as the inventor of laser cataract surgery — her road to the groundbreaking feat dates back to her childhood. Young Bath’s early exposure to science and medicine was when she learned about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s impact on lepers in the Congo, according to a biography shared by Changing the Face of Medicine.

Dr. Bath’s father, Rupert, was New York’s first Black motorman. Her mother, Gladys, was a housewife and house cleaner who led Dr. Bath to become interested in science by buying her a chemistry set, Biography reports. Both parents would motivate her to pursue academics, which paved the way for her educational success at age 16.


The Lemelson-MIT Program notes Dr. Bath performed well in biology and served as Charles Evans Hughes High School’s science paper editor, earning various awards. 

According to the aforementioned source, Dr. Bath’s name gained greater recognition after being selected to join the National Science Foundation’s summer program at Yeshiva University in 1959 when she was 16. She made a hypothesis that led her to obtain a mathematical equation to predict cancer cell growth. Her findings were later used in the scientific paper released by Dr. Robert O. Bernard, her mentor in the program. In 1960, Dr. Bath received the Mademoiselle magazine’s Merit Award.

In addition, she completed high school in just two and a half years. From there, she would continue her education at Hunter College in New York City, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1964. She later attended medical school at Howard University College of Medicine and completed her studies within four years.


From there, she worked at Harlem Hospital as an intern and then completed a one-year ophthalmology fellowship at Columbia University. It was at this moment that she discovered many Black patients were blind or visually impaired while at Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic. Through further study, she concluded that the issue was inadequate access to ophthalmic care. According to Changing the Face of Medicine, this prompted Dr. Bath to launch a new discipline, community ophthalmology — which is now practiced globally.

Dr. Bath continued to make significant strides in the STEM field. She moved to Los Angeles, CA, with her family and daughter, Eraka, who subsequently pursued a career in medicine, following her mother’s path, according to Biography.

She joined the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) faculty and became Charles R. Drew University’s assistant professor of surgery and ophthalmology.

Dr. Bath would go on to repeatedly make history. Biography reported that in 1975, she became the UCLA Medical Center’s first Black woman faculty member in the ophthalmology department at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. The following year, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

According to Changing the Face of Medicine, Dr. Bath was also named co-founder and chair of the Ophthalmology Residency Training Program at Drew-UCLA in 1983.

Laserphaco Probe

The year 1981 would catalyze a groundbreaking invention that has cemented Dr. Bath’s legacy. As AFROTECH™ previously reported, Dr. Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical tool for cataract treatment.

“Cataracts are one of the most common ailments in terms of eye diseases that happen to people. Prior to her inventing the Laserphaco Probe, they were not using lasers in eye surgery,” Dr. Eraka told AFROTECH™. “So, she figured out how to apply it to cataracts. In that discovery, it decreased the pain and made it sutureless because the incisions were so small, so you didn’t have to have as large of stitches. So, the healing time was increased. It revolutionized it in all these different ways.”

She added, “It built on what was previously phacoemulsification, but then she was able to apply the laser and figure out the exact frequency ’cause people had been trying, but they failed, right? So she was the one who kind of figured out, ‘Okay, this much heat, this much light,’ the sort of the wavelengths, if you will, for the laser. That really changed the trajectory of cataract surgery to be able to do it in this way.”

Medical Patent

Biography mentions that Dr. Bath would patent the device in 1988. Doing so would make her the first Black woman doctor to receive a medical patent. She currently has three patents associated with the device.

The Lemelson-MIT Program states that in 1988, she was selected to the Hunter College Hall of Fame and, in 1993, was deemed Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine. That same year, she became the first woman elected to UCLA Medical Center’s honorary medical staff.

According to the Lemelson-MIT Program, Dr. Bath passed away in 2019 after complications due to cancer. Her impact remains today, and she continues to receive her flowers posthumously.

Women’s Hall Of Fame

As AFROTECH™ previously shared, Dr. Bath was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2022. After the feat, she was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.