Columbia Ophthalmology Mourns the Loss of Dr. Patricia Bath, an Ophthalmology Pioneer

Photo: Patricia Bath, O.D., retrieved at

Ophthalmologist and laser scientist Patricia Bath, MD, famous for developing a revolutionary technique for removing cataracts that is used around the world to restore sight has died. As the Times announced in her June 3rd obituary, Dr. Bath died on May 30 from complications of cancer at a University of California San Francisco medical center. She was 76.

Her place in Columbia history dates back to her years as an intern and fellow at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, when she found that blindness was twice as common in African-Americans than in whites. She concluded that the difference arose from disparities in care, and she proposed a new discipline, known as community ophthalmology, to offer care to underserved populations. This outreach detected previously undiagnosed problems in thousands of people whose sight was subsequently saved.

Bath also convinced Columbia ophthalmologists to provide free eye surgery for blind patients at Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic, which did not perform eye surgery at the time. Because of her efforts, the hospital’s first major eye operation was performed in 1970. Bath recently received the John Stearns Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Clinical Practice from the New York Academy of Medicine.