Dr. Patricia Bath, Ophthalmology Pioneer Who Developed Laser Technique for Removing Cataracts, Dies at 76

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SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 2019 — Dr. Patricia Bath, a pioneer in the field of ophthalmology and inventor of the laserphaco probe cataract treatment, died May 30 at the age of 76.

Bath was recognized for her use of lasers for more precise cataract treatment, a technique known as photo-ablative surgery, which utilized her laserphaco probe.

Dr. Patricia Bath
Dr. Patricia Bath. Courtesy of the OSA Foundation

Bath lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center, where she was also a surgeon. She held five patents, lectured internationally, and authored more than 100 scientific papers.

Bath will be remembered not only for her pioneering inventions and impact on ophthalmology, but also for her humanitarian activities. As an intern working at both Harlem Hospital and Columbia University, Bath noticed that half the patients at the eye clinic in Harlem were blind or visually impaired. By contrast, there were very few obviously blind patients at the Columbia eye clinic.

This observation led Bath to conduct a retrospective epidemiological study, which documented that blindness among blacks was double that among whites. She surmised that the high prevalence of blindness among blacks was due to the lack of access to ophthalmic care. As a result, she proposed a new discipline, known as community ophthalmology, which is now operative worldwide.

In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, a nonprofit organization in the U.S. dedicated to the prevention of blindness through education, community service, research, and compassionate eye care services.

Born on Nov. 4, 1942, in New York City, Bath 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. She completed her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine.

Following graduation, Bath completed a fellowship at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she studied blindness and visual impairment. She was the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency at New York University, after which she joined the faculty of UCLA Medical Center. During her time there, Bath co-founded and became the first woman to lead an ophthalmology residency program.

Published: June 2019
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that focuses on the anatomy, physiology, and diseases of the eyes and visual system. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of eye disorders and diseases. They are trained to provide comprehensive eye care, including medical, surgical, and optical interventions. Key areas within ophthalmology include: General eye care: Ophthalmologists perform routine eye examinations to assess visual acuity,...
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