Passing The Torch: Dr. Eraka Bath Reflects On Her Mother’s Enduring Legacy

Back in February, we decided to launch our first-ever Black Health & Wellness Pioneers series for Black History Month. This series was an enlightening and inspirational journey through time that recognized and celebrated Black women’s invaluable contributions to the health and wellness fields. This series delved into the stories and achievements of prominent Black figures who have made significant strides in medicine, healthcare, fitness, mental health, and holistic wellness. We decided to kick off the series with famed ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath

Bath was a Black woman ophthalmologist who was a trailblazer for the profession. In 1974, she was the first woman ophthalmologist to be appointed to the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine Jules Stein Eye Institute. In 1983, she was the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States. In 1986, she discovered and invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco. In addition to being a trailblazer in the medical field, she was a present and loving mother to her only daughter, Dr. Eraka P. Bath, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps in the healthcare industry by becoming a noted professor and psychiatrist. Dr. Bath has a long-standing interest in community mental health and has committed her career to advancing health equity for ethnoracial, minoritized, and structurally marginalized youth and families, with a specialized focus on youth impacted by the foster care and juvenile legal systems. She has dedicated her time to working with structurally vulnerable populations and consults regularly with the court system. 

Passing The Torch: Dr. Eraka Bath Reflects On Her Mother’s Enduring Legacy

Recently, Dr. Patricia Bath was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a testament not only to her achievements but also to the enduring impact she has had on future generations, particularly her daughter, Dr. Eraka Bath, who accepted the honor on her mother’s behalf. 

“The 2024 class of Inductees are scientists, activists, performers, and athletes who are the changemakers of today and inspiration for the women of tomorrow,” said Jennifer Gabriel, CEO of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “Their dedication, drive, and talent got them here, and we’re thrilled to honor them on the national stage. This move will amplify the Inductees’ accomplishments and help empower and advance gender equality nationwide.”

Each Inductee was nominated by the public and reviewed by an independent selection committee of experts in various fields. The 2024 Inductee class has broken barriers, challenged the status quo, and impacted history.

We recently sat down with Dr. Bath to discuss her mother’s legacy and impact on medicine and their intimate relationship. 

ESSENCE: What did your mom mean to you? Can you speak about your relationship?

Dr. Eraka Bath: I grew up as an only child with a single mom, so it was almost like she and I were against the world. Given that I am a single mother, I realized more about the importance of that dyadic relationship. The bond, connection, and responsibility are incredible. My mom was very much a lion and mama bear in terms of how she raised me, stewarded me, and ensured that I was exposed to various activities and opportunities; she was very intentional. Despite being a busy surgeon, she always cooked delicious meals from scratch.

How has her legacy impacted you personally as her daughter? 

In many ways, like choosing a medical career, that’s not by accident. My mom never said I had to be a doctor, but exposure to service as a way of life helped me understand what was necessary. I always recognized the importance of giving back; that was one of the values she imparted to me. 

How are you continuing and honoring your mother’s legacy aside from your daily work? 

I am more intentional about creating joy. My mom enjoyed being amongst her community and having a good time, so I am starting to prioritize more of that because there’s a lot of grind culture in medicine and in our American culture, and then I think the sort of pressure as Black women to fix everything and do everything as a matter of survival, and at times it’s at our expense, and we need to rest. My mom loved nature, beekeeping, and doing art. So, all of those components aren’t tied to being a doctor, although that was her primary identity. She was so creative. 

How are you championing STEM work?

My appointment at UCLA, in the Department of Psychiatry, is focused on eradicating health inequity, which is multi-pronged and also involves thinking about workforce development. We work through how to make the staff as inclusive as possible and work on the structures within how to make them more accommodating and inclusive, from the research questions we asked to how we design those research protocols. I observed my mom mentoring many generations of doctors, women, Black, Latino, and Asian, lifting as she climbed. 

You and your family are excited that she was recently inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. So, what did that moment mean to you?

It was really special. It’s great to give people flowers. I’m so happy she could be inducted, even if it’s a posthumous induction. We do appreciate getting the recognition. My mom was sort of hidden in plain sight. I appreciate the opportunity to uplift her legacy. There’s an expression, “You have to see it to be it.” People need to see that it’s possible. 

Share your efforts to preserve your mom’s legacy and inspire future generations of women.

I am blessed and thankful to have other champions because I couldn’t do it alone as an only child. I’m very committed to doing as much as possible, but I have close friends of my mother’s who want her to have her flowers. Whether it’s her line sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Incorporated, many of whom are still alive, there are so many people who are championing us because they recognize the importance of representation of women. So many of our stories don’t get told. 

What’s one word to describe your mother’s spirit?


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