Dr. Alexa Canady: First Woman Neurosurgeon in America
Alexa Canady—the first Woman and the first African-American to become a neurosurgeon in America—was born November 7, 1950, in Lansing, Michigan, the daughter of Elizabeth Hortense (Golden) Canady and Clinton Canady, Jr. Her father was a graduate of the School of Dentistry of Meharry Medical College, practicing in Lansing. Her mother was a graduate of Fiasco University and was active for years in the civic affairs of Lansing. She also served as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Young Canady and her brother grew up outside Lansing and were the only two Black students in the entire school. Despite the obstacles, Canady was an exceptional student and was named a National Achievement Scholar in 1967. She attended the University of Michigan, getting her bachelor of science degree in 1971. She then attended the University of Michigan Medical School, earning her M.D. cum laude in 1975. Canady interned at Yale’s New Hane Hospital from 1975 to 1976; she was appointed as the first female and the first Black to a residency in neurosurgery.
From there she went to the University of Minnesota in neurosurgery from 1976 to 1981. She also worked at the University of Pennsylvania Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in pediatric neurosurgery from 1981 to 1982. Canady is currently the director of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital in Detroit and a clinical associate professor at Wayne State University. Her areas of expertise are craniofacial abnormalities, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, pediatric neurosurgery, and tumors of the spinal cord and brain. She has also added to special research topics such as assisting in the development of neuroendoscopic equipment, evaluating programmable pressure change valves in hydrocephalus, head injury, hydrocephalus and shunts, neuroendoscopy, and pregnancy complications of shunts.
Besides Dr. Canady’s position as the director of pediatric neurosurgery, she also works to change the perspective of how African-Americans are being perceived both as patients and physicians. She claims the major medical problem for Blacks stems from the scarcity of research targeting their specific health concerns and needs. Canady believes the issues will be better addressed now that medical schools are diversifying their student bodies and their faculties.
She feels very optimistic about the changing face of American medicine. She knows that her own accomplishments are helping to inspire the dreams of a younger generation. In 1975 Canady was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society. In 1983, she was named Teacher of the Year, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and in 1991 she was honored as an alum of the University of Michigan.