DR. ALEXA I. CANADY (1950-) is the first black female neurosurgeon.
Canady was born November 7, 1950, to Clinton and Elizabeth Canady. Her father was a dentist, and her mother served as president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, in addition to other civic affairs. The family lived just outside Lansing, Michigan. Canady and her brother were the only two black students in their entire school.
Canady was an exceptional student and named a National Achievement Scholar in 1967. She attended the University of Michigan, earning her bachelor’s in zoology in 1971, although she had almost dropped out of college. She explains, “The summer after my junior year, I worked in Dr. Bloom’s lab in genetics and attended a genetic counseling clinic. I fell in love with medicine.”
She continued her studies at the University of Michigan Medical School, earning her M.D. in 1975, graduating cum laude. Following graduation, Canady interned at Yale’s New Haven Hospital for a year. She was appointed the first female and first black person to a residency in neurosurgery. On her first day, as she began making her rounds, a hospital administrator referred to her as “the new equal-opportunity package.” Despite the remark, Dr. Canady viewed her accomplishment as a double achievement for not only herself, but also her race and gender.
In 1976, Canady went to work at the University of Minnesota in its neurosurgery department until 1981. She then worked at the University of Pennsylvania Children’s Hospital in pediatric neurosurgery for a year. In 1982, she began working at the Children’s Hospital in Detroit, and in 1987, Canady became director of neurosurgery there. She held this position until her retirement in June 2001.
Despite her work load, Canady would make time when mentor programs asked her to take a high school student around for the day. In a Free Press interview, she explained, “I do it because it’s important. If you want to be something, you have to perceive that something is possible. You do a disservice to children if you paint it as too rosy. They hit a bump and feel like a failure. Well, everybody fails at some time or another. But no one talks about it.”
Dr. Canady holds two honorary degrees: a doctorate of humane letters from the University of Detroit-Mercy, awarded in 1997, and a doctor of science degree from the University of Southern Connecticut, awarded in 1999. She received the Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s Teacher of the Year award in 1984, and was inducted into the Michigan Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1993, she received the American Medical Women’s Association President’s Award and in 1994 the Distinguished Service Award from Wayne State University Medical School. In 2002, the Detroit News named her Michiganer of the Year.
Now that she’s retired, Dr. Canady has more time to work to change the perspective of how blacks both as patients and physicians are being presumed and perceived. She claims the major medical problem for blacks stems from the scarcity of research targeting their specific health concerns and needs. She enjoys playing video games and having more time to spend with her husband, George Davis, a retired Navy recruiter.
Concrete Loop features ‘Black History Spotlights’ each week honoring black people who have played pivotal roles in history. submissions are welcome.