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Obituaries

Patricia Bath: ophthalmologist, inventor, and humanitarian

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4768 (Published 19 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4768
  1. Barbara Kermode-Scott
  1. Comox, Canada
Credit: UCLA

Had Patricia Bath been born a white man, her achievements in ophthalmology, medicine, and humanitarianism would have deserved an obituary in The BMJ. Given she was born female and African American in a modest home in Harlem, her success in restoring or improving vision for millions was even more impressive.

A series of firsts

During her career, Patricia Bath confronted the intersection of racism and sexism, according to her daughter, psychiatrist Eraka Bath. Never one to be thwarted, Bath gained a medical degree and started racking up a series of “firsts,” carving a path for women and minorities in ophthalmology, medicine, and academia. She was the first African American to undertake a residency in ophthalmology at New York University. When she received her fellowship, she became the first female ophthalmologist on the faculty of the Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science (David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California and Los Angeles) and the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. In 1976 she pioneered community ophthalmology, a new, volunteer based specialism …

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