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Remembering Dr. Patricia Bath, the First Black Woman Doctor to Receive a Medical Patent

Remembering Dr. Patricia Bath, the First Black Woman Doctor to Receive a Medical Patent

Dr. Patricia Bath, a trailblazing ophthalmologist who achieved many firsts, including becoming the first African-American woman doctor to receive a medical patent, joined the ancestors when she passed away on May 30. She was 76.

On May 17, 1988 Dr. Bath received a patent for her invention, the Laserphaco Probe, which was created to dissolve cataracts. Though impressive, she achieved a number of firsts prior to her patent. She was the first African American resident in ophthalmology at NYU School of Medicine. She was the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and she was also the first woman faculty member of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. All of which she achieved a decade before her initial patent.

Born in Harlem, New York, Dr. Bath received her degree in chemistry in 1964 from Hunter College and in 1968 she graduated with her medical degree from Howard University Medical School.  

Her concern for epidemic cases of blindness amongst underserved communities, from what she deemed preventable causes, pushed her to seek solutions and to advocate for prevention through education, access and outreach.

In 1976 Dr. Bath’s belief that “eyesight is a basic human right” led her to co-found the American Institute of Prevention and Blindness.

As a pioneer in not only ophthalmology, but in the medical field in general, Dr. Bath’s journey was not without challenges. Last year during an interview with Good Morning America she talked about how she managed to persevere. 

“I had a few obstacles but I had to shake it off,” she told Good Morning America. She continued, “Hateration, segregation, racism, that’s the noise, you have to ignore that and keep your eyes focused on the prize. It’s just like Dr. Martin Luther King said, so that’s what I did.”

Dr. Bath retired from UCLA in 1993 but she continued to lecture and travel the world. She owned five U.S. patents and wrote more than 100 papers. 

Her daughter, Dr. Eraka Bath told TIME that she had more than one career.

"She almost had a second career as a humanitarian," her daughter said. "She just was very vigorous and tireless."

Dr. Bath is survived by her daughter, her granddaughter, Noa Raphaelle Bath Fortuit and her brother, Rupert Bath.