Dr. Alexa Canady was born on November 7, 1950, in Lansing, Michigan. While she was in college, a summer program inspired her to pursue a medical career. In 1981, she became the first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States. Canady specialized as a pediatric neurosurgeon and served as chief of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital in Michigan from 1987 to 2001.
Alexa Irene Canady was born in Lansing, Michigan, on November 7, 1950, to a dentist father and a mother who worked in education. Her parents taught Canady the importance of hard work and learning, which helped her to graduate from high school with honors.
Becoming a Neurosurgeon
While Alexa Canady was attending the University of Michigan, a health careers summer program for minority students sparked her interest in medicine. After graduating from college in 1971 with a major in zoology, Canady continued on to the university's medical school.
Canady initially wanted to be an internist, but her plans changed when she became intrigued by neurosurgery. It was a career path that some advisers discouraged her from pursuing, and she encountered difficulties in obtaining an internship. But Canady refused to give up, and was eventually accepted as a surgical intern at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She went there after graduating, cum laude, from medical school in 1975.
When her internship ended in 1976, Canady moved to the University of Minnesota, becoming, as a resident of the university's department of neurosurgery, the first female African-American neurosurgery resident in the United States. Upon completing her residency in 1981, she became the country's first female African-American neurosurgeon.
Canady chose to specialize as a pediatric neurosurgeon, training at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She then worked in pediatric neurosurgery at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit before moving to the Children's Hospital of Michigan.
For Canady, surgeries ran the gamut from attempting to repair trauma-related injuries to confronting neurological illnesses. Though initially wary of how she would be accepted in her profession, she found that her charges and their parents appreciated her dedication to patient care. In a 1983 interview, she related that, although some people were at first surprised to see her, she suspected that they told themselves, "She's a black woman and a neurosurgeon, so she must know what she's doing."
In 1984, Canady was certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, another first for a female African American. Three years later, she became director of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital. Under her guidance, the department was soon viewed as one of the best in the country.
In addition to her other responsibilities, Canady conducted research and taught as a professor of neurosurgery at Wayne State University. She maintained a busy schedule until her retirement from the Children's Hospital in 2001. After retiring, Canady moved to Florida. When she learned that there were no pediatric neurosurgeons in her immediate area, she began to practice part-time at Pensacola's Sacred Heart Hospital.
Honors and Accomplishments
Canady was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1989 and received the American Medical Women's Association President's Award in 1993. In addition to these honors, and a career filled with other accomplishments, Canady stands out as an example for those who face a daunting career path.
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