Breaking BarriersAnalysis & Conclusion



Shattering The Glass Ceiling

Facing Barriers in History

"I had a few obstacles but I had to shake it off."
~ Patricia Bath

(Cataract Treatment Inventor Dr. Patricia Bath Dies at 76)

African Americans Recieve Less Eye Care

After finishing college in 1968, Patricia Bath began to intern at Harlem Hospital in New York. In 1969, she started a fellowship at Columbia University. During her fellowship, she worked at the Columbia Eye Clinic. While treating patients, Bath noticed that the blindness rates were very different between Harlem and Columbia. Harlem Hospital contained many African American patients. Here, almost half of the patients faced visual impairment or blindness. On the other hand, Columbia had a significantly lower amount of blind patients, but also a significantly lower number of African American patients. By conducting a retrospective epidemiological study, a study that looks back on events to conduct research in the medical field, she was able to research and document the problem. She concluded that the rate of blindness was nearly double among African Americans than among whites due to lack of eye care.

The graph shows the rate of blindness among blacks, grey, compared to whites in the years 1968 through 1970. (Patricia, Bath Era)

Women and African-Americans Face Discrimination

Patricia Bath at age 17 (Genzlinger, Neil).

Although discrimination is still a problem today, it used to be worse. In the 1970s, there was still a long list of things that women and African-Americans hadn’t accomplished. Many believed that women couldn’t be as successful as men. African-Americans weren’t given the same opportunities as whites. As an African-American female, discrimination was something Patricia Bath faced often throughout her life. Patricia Bath faced both sexism and racism when she was still a child. However, later in life, despite the discrimination she faced, she was able to become the first female faculty member in the department of ophthalmology at UCLA Medical Center. Bath recalls that she  “...was offered an office in the basement next to the lab animals…” (The Right to Sight: Patricia Bath). Another instance where she faced discrimination was when she first came up with the idea of inventing the Laserphaco Probe. Her boss said that it was impossible that she would be able to invent the device on her own.  Bath faced discrimination throughout her entire life despite having a brilliant mind. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Technology In Ophthamology

During her medical career, Patricia Bath made medical strides in the area of removing cataracts. The word cataract comes from ancient roots of the word waterfall due to people originally believing the cause of vision loss was a liquid running over their eye. It was later learned that cataracts are caused by the protein in the lens of the eye clumping together over time. This causes light coming into the eye to scatter instead of focused. Cataracts are generally caused by aging; however, diabetes, smoking, past eye surgeries, and family history may increase the risk of getting a cataract. They can cause blurred vision along with other effects and can eventually cause blindness if not treated. Cataracts affect about seventy percent of 75 year olds, so cataracts aren’t uncommon. Before Patricia Bath, cataracts could be removed in a variety of ways. For example, a 3mm incision could be made on the eye. A device would then be used to disintegrate the cataract so it could be removed. Using lasers was not possible at that time due to the lack of technology.

Cataract on eye. (NVISION).