You might know people who wear glasses or contacts. Corrective lenses can help people with vision problems to see better. However, some eye conditions, like cataracts, cannot be corrected with only lenses.
A cataract is a blemish on the eye’s lens. It causes the lens to swell and keeps light from entering the eye. If left untreated, a milky white liquid can form in the lens. A cataract causes blurred vision and can eventually lead to blindness.
In the past, many people lost their sight because of cataracts. Research in ophthalmology, the study of the eye, has led to new treatments. One of them is laser eye surgery.
Dr. Patricia E. Bath invented a laser device for removing cataracts. It is called the Laserphaco Probe. The part of the tool that is inserted into the eye is tiny—about the size of a sharp pencil tip. The doctor inserts the probe into the eye. They then use a laser to vaporize the cataract. Next, the doctor removes the diseased lens. They insert a tiny artificial lens. Doctors use Bath’s Laserphaco Probe for all of these steps!
Patricia Bath grew up in New York. During high school, she liked biology and won several science awards. Bath also took part in a summer program in biomedical science at YeshivaUniversity. She finished high school in only two and a half years!
After high school, Bath studied chemistry at Hunter College in New York. Then she moved to Washington, D.C. where she earned her medical degree at Howard University. Bath went back to New York to train as an eye doctor. She did an internship at Harlem Hospital. She also studied at Columbia University.
While doing this work, Bath noticed that there were more blind patients at Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic than at Columbia’s eye clinic. She noticed that more of the blind patients were Black. She did a research study at the two hospitals and found that Black people were twice as likely to develop blindness as White people. Bath concluded Black people had less access to eye care, which led to greater instances of blindness.
In 1976, Bath wrote a paper suggesting a solution to this problem. She called her idea “Community Ophthalmology.” It was a new medical field that would increase access to eye care. Trained volunteers would check people’s eyes at places in the community. They could see children at schools and childcare centers. They could visit programs for senior citizens. These volunteers would look for serious eye conditions. Community Ophthalmology is now used throughout the world to make sure people can access eye care.
During her career, Dr. Bath also worked as a professor. She taught at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Charles Drew University. She was the first female professor in ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. It was here that Bath ran into the racism and sexism that she discusses in today’s Wonder video.
In 1988, Bath became the first Black female doctor to receive a U.S. patent for a medical invention. She holds four patents for the Laserphaco Probe. She also holds patents in other countries, including Japan and Canada. Today, eye doctors around the world use the Laserphaco Probe to treat cataract disease.
For her work, Dr. Patricia E. Bath was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2022. Bath’s invention helped people who had lost their sight to see again. She used her ideas to create new ways to care for patients.
What new ideas do you have? How might you use them to solve problems that you see in the world?
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.6, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.SL.1, ETS1-1, ETS1-3, NHES. 7