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Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath attends the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. She invented a laser probe to treat cataracts.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Patricia Bath improved the vision of generations thanks to her invention for cataract treatment.

Born in 1942, Bath's educational achievements began early. She graduated high school in only two years, then earned a bachelor's degree from Hunter College and a medical degree from Howard University before accepting an ophthalmology fellowship at Columbia University. It was during this fellowship that Bath's research uncovered some staggering statistics: When compared with her other patients, blacks were eight times more likely to develop glaucoma and twice as likely to go blind from it. She set her sights on developing a process to increase eye care for people unable to pay, now called community ophthalmology, which operates worldwide. Bath became the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in 1973, and the first woman to join the ophthalmology department at UCLA in 1975.

By 1981, Bath was hard at work on her most notable invention, a laser probe that precisely treated cataracts with less pain to the patient. Using the laserphaco probe she devised, she was able to restore sight to patients who had been blind for as long as 30 years. In 1988, she became the first black female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. Since her retirement in 1993, Bath continues to advocate for the medically underserved and has focused on the use of technology to offer medical services in remote regions [source: Biography].

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