Time for my favorite blog feature – History’s Hidden Heroes, where we talk about scientists who may not get the recognition they deserve, especially outside of their field. This month we are talking about Dr. Patricia Bath. If you’ve had cataracts, and you’ve had those cataracts treated, you can think Dr. Bath for saving your eyesight. Patricia Bath, an opthamologist, was the first African-American female doctor to patent a medical invention. Her patent was for the Cataract Laserphaco Probe. This terrifyingly named device was a method to remove cataracts from people’s eyes. Dr. Bath owns four patents and also developed new strategies of delivering eye care to underserved populations.
Dr. Bath was born in Harlem in 1942. Her parents encouraged her academic career. While serving as a fellow at Columbia University, she began a life-long campaign to bring eye care to poor patients and to people of color who were often not receiving the same care as whites.
It seemed that at the Eye Clinic at Harlem Hospital, half the patients were blind or visually impaired. In contrast, at the Eye Clinic at Columbia . . . there were very few obviously blind patients. That observation fueled [a] passion . . . to conduct a retrospective epidemiological study . . . which documented that . . . blindness among blacks was double that [among] whites. I reached the conclusion that the cause for the high prevalence among blacks was due to lack of access to ophthalmic care. This conclusion led me to propose a new discipline, known as Community Ophthalmology, which is now operative worldwide.
The Laserphaco method and technology that Dr. Bath developed has restored sight to people who had been missing it for decades.You can find more about Dr. Bath, including more amazing quotes, at inventionsmithsonian.org Here’s the concluding quote from the Smithsonian webpage:
While her career has been marked by many “firsts” as a scientist, a woman, and an African-American, she looks forward to the day when a person’s work will speak for itself. “Hopefully, our society will come to that point. Sometimes I want to say to people, just look at my work. . . . I’ve had technological obstacles, scientific obstacles, and obstacles being a woman. Yes, I’m interested in equal opportunities, but my battles are in science.”