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TIME Celebrates FIRSTS

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Trailblazing ophthalmologist, Dr. Patricia Bath’s indelible influence within the realm of STEM has inspired generations of changemakers whose work sits at the intersection of innovation and medicine. Her legacy will be honored with a posthumous induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Dr. Bath—the woman behind the invention of the Laserphaco Probe that was designed for cataract treatment— made historic strides throughout her entire career. In 1973, she became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University. She broke racial and gender barriers at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute by becoming the first Black woman faculty member in the institution’s Department of Ophthalmology. The Harlem native founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness alongside Dr. Alfred Cannon and Dr. Aaron Ifekwunigwe. In 1986, she created the Laserphaco Probe and received a patent for the surgical tool two years later, making her the first Black woman doctor to garner a medical patent. The device used laser technology to provide better outcomes for cataract treatment.

The Howard University alumna’s work was also rooted in addressing racial health disparities. She developed a community ophthalmology system to make eye care more accessible for the underserved. “Sometimes even now when I’m told I was a “first,” it comes as a surprise because it’s only through history that you understand that kind of thing,” Dr. Bath shared in an interview with TIME. “I wasn’t seeking to be first. I was just doing my thing, and I wanted to serve humanity along the way—to give the gift of sight. In science, the evidence is the truth. I knew that my work would win the argument. And it did.”

Bath passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on through innovators who are not only advancing medicine but challenging the status quo and standing up for equity in the process. Her daughter, Dr. Eraka Bath, says her mother’s contributions have unequivocally shaped the landscape of STEM. “To know that my mother is part of the 2022 class of National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees is an unbelievable honor,” she said in a statement. “Her incredible career path—and her contributions to the study of ophthalmology, cannot be understated. The NIHF distinction is an overdue recognition of her accomplishments.” She is slated to officially be inducted in 2022.

The honor is historic as Dr. Bath and tech pioneer Marian Croak will become the first Black women to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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