Visionary Women

Tue, March 8th, 2022

In honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, Hubble would like to pay tribute to the exceptional, influential, and innovative women that tirelessly devoted themselves to ophthalmology and optometry, transforming it into what we know it to be today. 

These pioneers paved the way for the extraordinary female eye doctors we now know and love. Ophthalmology was a field predominantly dominated by men, but that is no longer the case. The number of female eye doctors has increased significantly; furthermore, women are now taking on leadership roles in ophthalmology and optometry. 

In the past 50 years, women in optometry have made huge strides despite having few female role models in the field and many societal obstacles to overcome. 

The first woman ophthalmologist:

The first female ophthalmologist, Dr. Patricia E. Bath, laid the groundwork through uncharted territory.  

Dr. Bath discovered and invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laser phaco and was the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States. 

She was not only a woman in a field dominated by men but also the first African-American resident in ophthalmology at New York University. She was an innovative research scientist and advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure.

During her studies as an intern at Harlem Hospital and her fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University, Bath observed that half the patients at Harlem Hospital were blind or visually impaired compared to a minimal number of patients at Columbia University. This led Dr. Bath to conduct an epidemiological study that found that blindness among African-American patients was double that among whites due to a lack of ophthalmic care. As a result of this finding, Dr. Bath proposed a new discipline known as community ophthalmology—integrating aspects of public health, medicine, and clinical ophthalmology to offer primary care to underprivileged populations. Dr. Bath's outreach saved the eyesight of thousands who otherwise would have gone untreated. 

Additionally, in 1977 Dr. Bath and three colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness—an organization committed to protecting, preserving, and restoring vision. The AIPB's fundamental conviction is that eyesight is a basic human right and that primary eye care must be made available to all people regardless of economic status. 

Dr. Bath was also a laser scientist and inventor. Her inventions, which were ahead of the technology of the time, led to the restoration of vision to various patients that had previously been entirely blind. 

Dr. Bath, unfortunately, was no stranger to discrimination and sexism. However, she refused to let this limit her work and incredible ophthalmological advancements. 

Bath joined the staff of UCLA and Drew University in 1974 as an assistant professor of surgery and ophthalmology. She was offered an office in the basement next to the lab animals to conduct her work which she promptly refused, stating it was unacceptable. Ultimately, she succeeded in her plight and was provided with a suitable office space. Eventually, she became the chair of the ophthalmology residency program at Drew-UCLA, the first woman in the US to obtain such a position. 

Patricia Bath was also a devoted wife and mother to her daughter. She prioritized motherhood while juggling completing a fellowship in corneal transplantation and Kerastoprothesis—replacing the human cornea with an artificial one providing vision to the previously blind. 

Bath eventually retired from UCLA and was appointed to the honorary medical staff. However, her work didn't end there. Bath went on to advocate for the use of telemedicine to provide medical services to areas where health care was limited. 

Dr. Bath persisted in her passion and fight against blindness until her passing in 2019. She once said, "The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward.

The first woman optometrist:

Dr. Gertrude Stanton was the first-ever female licensed to practice optometry in the United States. 

Stanton was a native of Iowa and began her career as a teacher. She eventually moved to Minnesota to obtain training and work as a refracting optician and optometrist. Gertrude grew her professional reputation through the use of clever marketing strategies. 

In 1901 Stanton applied for and received a license by exemption in optometry. After obtaining her license, she became an in-store optometrist at Dayton's Department Store. 

Stanton eventually decided to take her career to the next level and opened a storefront where she employed her daughter and a myriad of other women. Gertrude's business was run entirely by women, which was unprecedented for the time, let alone in the medical field. 

During her career, Stanton was a part of various optometry and professional associations, public service projects, and an active member of her community. She achieved all this while living what was considered, for the time, to be an unconventional life, having been married three times and having three children from these marriages. Stanton was an independent and fierce woman that was ahead of her time. 

Stanton was loved by her patients and the public alike and was well respected for her significant financial success on account of her ingenious business insight. 

Gertrude Stanton laid down the groundwork for women in optometry. Today 38% of optometrists are women, and that number is likely to rise as roughly 70% of students studying optometry today are women. 

Gertrude Stanton once stated, "Women have entered such extraordinary pursuits that seemingly there is no field where men succeed that a woman may not achieve success also.

The first female president of the American Optometry Association:

Dr. Dori M. Carlson was the first woman to serve as President of the American Optometric Association, AOA. During her tenure as President, Carlson visited every school and college of optometry and lobbied considerably for children's eye exams to become a fundamental benefit in health care reform. 

Optometric Management named Dr. Carlson one of the "Most Influential in Optometry," and Primary Care News recognized her as a "Pioneer in Optometry." Additionally, Carlson was honored with the Women of Optometry's Theia Award for Leadership. 

Dr. Carlson is a role model for women in optometry everywhere. She was also the first female president of the North Dakota Optometric Association, honored as the North Dakota Young Optometrist of the Year and Optometrist of the Year. 

She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, a Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry, and a 1989 graduate of Pacific University College of Optometry. 

You'd think her career successes would end there, but Carlson has more to offer in the world of optometry. Alongside her husband, Dr. Mark Helgeson, she founded Heartland Eye Care, and despite her bustling schedule championing for her profession Carlson continues to see patients—striving to advance the care she provides. 

Dr. Carlson once stated in Optometry Times, where she writes about the importance of setting goals to succeed in life personally and financially, "Remember to be kind to yourself. You will have temporary failures, but don't make them the excuse to give up." 

The paved road for visionary women in optometry:

Dr. Patricia E. Bath, Dr. Gertrude Stanton, and Dr. Carlson paved the way for women in optometry as the first women in their fields and roles, setting the stage for the countless women that have followed in their footsteps. 

Emulating Dr. Carlson's lead, Dr. Andrea P. Thau became the second appointed president of the AOA, followed by Dr. Barbara Horn in 2018.

Dr. Horn stated in an interview with Review of Optometry, "This is our moment in time to promote in-person comprehensive eye exams. We need to educate the public, as well as local primary care providers and pediatricians, about what optometry is and what we can do.

Five women currently sit on the board of trustees of the AOA alongside six men. For the first time in the history of the AOA, the scales are balanced—representing the perseverance and resilience of women in optometry. 

The shift of women in optometry and ophthalmology is happening fast. The various women that laid down the groundwork in the optometric field, broke through glass ceilings, and overcame societal adversities provided a gift to the women of today that won't be soon forgotten. 

Hubble has an outstanding team of women that help steer and grow the company daily. These women hold leadership roles, VP positions, and sit on the board of advisors. 

An estimated 45 million people in the United States wear contact lenses; roughly 69% are females. Women are also 75% more likely to need glasses than men, and more than half of women in the US need prescription vision correction. Additionally, two-thirds of all blindness and visual impairment cases occur in women. So, it's almost no surprise that women are entering the field of eye health at a fervent rate. 

Women continue to implement themselves into optometry practices and organizations all over the United States and the world. These women tirelessly dedicate themselves to bettering the field by pursuing further education, joining auxiliary organizations, and teaming up to help support local and international charities—spreading the word on the importance of eye health. 

The percentage of female eye doctors continues to climb year after year, demonstrating that women have made considerable strides in eye health care and have no intention to slow down anytime soon! 

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