Dr. Bath’s Childhood, Education, Training and Research
Dr. Bath was born in Harlem in 1942 to two loving parents. Her mother, Gladys Bath, was an American citizen and was a direct descendant from African slaves and Cherokee Indians. Her father, Rupert Bath, immigrated to the United States from Trinidad. From a young age, her parents encouraged all of their children to work hard, get an education, and follow all of their dreams. She instantly developed a passion for reading and medicine. Her parents must have known what challenges lay ahead of Patricia, being an African American woman, but they always supported her.
As a child, Dr. Bath lived in relative poverty. She attended public schools in New York, and at an early age, showed that she was very skilled when it came to science. She became the editor of the science newspaper at Charles Evan Hughes High School. She won several awards in science while attending the high school. At the age of sixteen, she was awarded an opportunity to spend a summer studying medicine at the Yeshiva Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. It was here that she amazingly discovered an equation that was able to predict cancer growth. (Keep in mind, she was only sixteen!) This discovery earned her a Merit Award from Mademoiselle Magazine in 1960. Her mentor, Dr. Robert O. Bernard, incorporated her discovery into a paper he wrote that he presented in Washington D.C. at an international conference. At a young age, Dr. Bath was already achieving notoriety in science and medical fields. She worked so hard because she wanted to become a doctor more than anything. She explains her inspiration for wanting to become a physician, “My love of humanity and passion for helping others inspired me to become a physician.” (National Library of Medicine) She was also inspired by Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a physician who did remarkable work with lepers in the Congo.
After she completed high school in only two and a half years, she moved on to college. In 1964, she graduated from Hunter College and went on to study medicine at Howard University School of Medicine. Her mother scrubbed floors to help pay for her daughter’s medical school. In 1968, she graduated with honors and earned her medical degree. In a time where it was almost unheard of for a woman (let alone an African American woman) to go to college, she achieved a higher education that was usually reserved for the privileged. It is truly astounding to see the educational accomplishments of Dr. Bath in 1968 when racism and sexism were still prevalent in the United States. In a time where segregation was common and terrorist acts against African Americans occurred too frequently (usually in the South), Dr. Bath achieved what many would say is impossible for an African American woman of the time.
After she graduated from medical school, Dr. Bath returned to Harlem where she did a year of her internship at Harlem Hospital Medical Center. She transferred over to Columbia University where the medical world first saw how much she had to offer. During her studies, she trained in corneal diseases and specialized in a procedure called keratoprosthesis, where a human cornea is replaced with an artificial one. She also worked on research of the biochemistry of the human lens, and studied blindness prevention. Her research and experiences led her to the discovery that African Americans are twice as likely to be blind as non African Americans. Her follow up research showed that African Americans are also eight times as likely to become blind due to glaucoma. While working at the hospital in Harlem, she noticed vision problems were quite common, especially among African Americans. When she transferred over to Columbia, vision problems were almost unheard of, and most of the patients there were Caucasian.
While studying at the Harlem Hospital in 1968, she noticed that the eye clinic was unable to perform surgery. She was able to convince her professors at Columbia to perform surgery on the blind for free. She became a volunteer assistant surgeon. In 1970, the first major eye surgery was performed at Harlem Hospital’s Eye Clinic because of Dr. Bath.
In 1973, Dr. Bath finished her residency at New York University, becoming the first African American resident in the ophthalmology program. In 1975, she became certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology.