Black Inventors and Innovators - Patricia Bath
In this series of Black Inventors and Innovators I have primarily focused on Black male inventors. I am going to switch it up a bit and change focus to take a look at some female inventors and innovators. The first black female inventor that I am going to discuss is Patricia Bath.
Patricia Bath is an ophthalmologist who was born November 4, 1942 in Harlem, New York. Bath is credited as the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. Bath’s patent was received in 1988 for a device designed to help remove cataracts with a fiber optic laser.
Bath’s interest in science and the world started at a young age with great influence from her parents who told their daughter about their travels and provided her with books and probably most influentially a chemistry set. When Bath was in high school she was the editor of the school’s science newspaper. Soon after she was chosen for a summer college science program where she worked in cancer research and was able to develop a mathematical equation that could be used to predict the rate of growth of cancer. Parts of Bath’s research were included in a joint scientific paper and the exposure garnered Bath Mademoiselle Magazine’s 1960 Merit Award.
Bath graduated with a bachelor’s degree from HunterCollege and went to medical school at HowardUniversity. In 1968 Bath was an intern at HarlemHospital and then a year later accepted a fellowship in ophthalmology at ColumbiaUniversity. Through these very different experiences she observed that many of the HarlemHospital patients suffered blindness while very few at Columbia Eye Clinic did. This led Bath to the realization that Blacks were twice as likely to suffer from blindness as the general population. Bath soon realized that this was due to the lack of access to care for Blacks. Bath was able to develop a Community Ophthalmology concept and recruited many of the professors at Columbia to donate their time and services for the HarlemHospital’s Eye Clinic. This concept provided reading glasses to children and vision screenings to the community.
Soon after Bath’s focused specifically on cataracts; a cloudiness that occurs within the eye causing blurred vision and blindness. Through her studies Bath was able to devise a safer, faster and more accurate approach to cataracts surgery using a fiber optic laser. Bath’s procedure would also eliminate the discomfort associated with the surgery as well as increasing the accuracy of the surgery.
Bath is a remarkable woman who achieved so many firsts and distinctions in her life, working by the ideology that eyesight is a basic human right.