Falling in love with medicine during a summer program for minority students at the University of Michigan that she attended after her junior year of college, Dr. Alexa Canady would follow up her undergraduate degree in zoology with attending medical school, earning her medical degree in 1975.
Completing a surgical internship in 1976, she fought for the opportunity to study neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and completed her residency in 1981, making her the first African-American neurosurgeon in the United States.
Canady specializes in pediatric neurosurgery, training at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then working at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit before joining the staff at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in 1982.
Two years later she became the first female African-American to be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Promoted to chief of neurosurgery in 1987 she would see patients, mostly age ten or younger, that have faced life-threatening illnesses, head trauma including gunshot wounds, and other brain injuries or diseases. Her work also includes treatment of craniofacial abnormalities, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, and tumors of the spinal cord and brain. As a researcher she has assisted in the development of neuroendoscopic equipment, the evaluation of programmable pressure change valves in hydrocephalus treatment, and pregnancy complications of shunts.
Meeting with resistance to her being an African-American in medicine she is an advocate for a change in the perspective of how African Americans are treated as patients and perceived as doctors. Canady believes that major medical problems for her community can stem from the scarcity of research targeting their specific health concerns and needs. She hopes that these issues will be better addressed as medical schools are trying to diversify their student bodies and faculties.
Named the American Medical Women’s Medical Association Woman of the Year in 1993 she was also inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in the same year. Retiring in 2001, Canady moved to Florida and learned that there were no pediatric neurosurgeons in the immediate area so she returned to practicing medicine part time at Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Hospital.
Written by Angela Goad