Women Who Transformed Eye Care

Above: From left to right – Dr. Nicole Grasset, Dr. Patricia Bath, Dr. G. Natchiar, Dr. Lindsey Marvel, Dr. Ella Gertrude Stanton

Women have played an integral role in the field of eye care throughout history, from the development of new inventions to creating new models of care, to holding key leadership roles – they are transforming the eye care landscape day after day.

Co-founder and Seva Original – Dr. Nicole Grasset was a world-renowned public health specialist, virologist, and Seva Co-Founder. She worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) to lead the smallpox eradication campaign in Southeast Asia, spending her weeks organizing the program, seeking funds, and going into small villages to discover where the epidemic was re-surging. After her time with the WHO, she worked with future Seva founder Larry Brilliant to conduct Nepal Blindness Survey, a scientifically sound research project on visual impairment. The results from the survey were the forerunner of the development of WHO’s Nepal Blindness Program and was hailed as one of the most successful initiatives globally.

Inventor – Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist, inventor and researcher who helped to advance the prevention of blindness among underserved populations. In 1988, Dr. Bath patented the Laserphaco Probe, an invention which removed cataracts. She became the first Black female doctor to receive a medical patent at the time. She is also the inventor of community ophthalmology, a new discipline which provides care to underserved populations.

Champion – Dr. G. Natchiar is a founding member of Aravind Eye Care System, a key Seva partner. Dr. Natchiar has served the organization in several capacities, including introducing Aravind’s paramedical program. This program provides training to young women from rural backgrounds to become eye care professionals. Through Aravind’s vision centers and outreach activities, Dr. G. Natchiar has also played an instrumental role in initiating an innovative service delivery model for rural populations. 

Advocate – Dr. Lindsey Marvel, a Native optometrist from the Caddo Nation, has spent the last decade serving some of the most underserved Native American populations across the country. A proponent of digital health, Dr. Marvel is currently piloting a tele-optometry model in an effort to bring affordable care to communities most in need. Dr. Marvel also serves as a technical advisor for Seva, guiding our U.S.-based Native eye care programming across six states. 

Pioneer – Dr. Ella Gertrude Stanton was the first woman licensed to practice optometry in the United States around 1900. Upon receiving her training in Minnesota, Dr. Stanton began to work as an itinerant refracting optician. In addition to participating in optometry and professional associations, Dr. Stanton also started her own optical business run by women. 

These five women are just a few of many that have helped revolutionize the field of eye care. They made history that lives on to this very day in the technologies we use, the communities that have been transformed, and people whose sight have been restored. 

Citations & References:

Dr. Patricia Bath: Image credit: The New York Times via Eraka Bath

Dr. G. Natchiar: Aravind Eye Care System 

Dr. Lindsey Marvel: The International Agency for Prevention of Blindness

Dr. Ella Gertrude Stanton: Image credit: Portrait of Gertrude Stanton. From the Opt J Rev Optom. 1906;28:368; Citation: Davis, V., & Vogl, L. (2019). Gertrude Stanton (1863-1931): The First Woman Licensed to Practice Optometry in the United States. Hindsight: Journal of Optometry History, 51(1), 5–10.

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