At the age of 30, Canady was the first Woman and First African American to become a Neurosurgeon in America. From Lansing Michigan, Alexa Irene Canady is 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 was active for years in civic affairs of Lansing. She also served as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Alexa Irene Canady was born on November 7, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan to Elizabeth Hortense (Golden) Canady (a former national president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority) and Dr. Clinton Canady, Jr., a dentist.
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 named a National Achievement Scholar in 1967 at the age of 17 years old.
Being questioned about her inspiration, she said, "I attended a summer program for minority students at the University of Michigan 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 attended the University of Michigan, getting her BS, degree in 1971. After this came the University of Michigan, Medical School, and her M.D. cum laude in 1975. Canady's Interned at Yale's New Hane Hospital from 1975 to 1976, and an example of her non-recognition due to being Black and a woman came on her first day of her residency at Yale New Hane Hospital. She was appointed as first female and first black to a residency in neurosurgery. 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 herself and both women and African Americans.
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, Ped Neurosurg from 1981-82. Currently, Canady is 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 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 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. 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 Teacher of the Year, Children's Hospital of Michigan, and in 1991 Dr. Canady was honored as Alumni, University of Michigan.
Alexa Irene Canady had almost dropped out of college as an undergraduate, but after recovering her self-confidence she went on to qualify as the first African American woman neurosurgeon in the United States.
Alexa Canady earned a B.S. degree in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1971, and graduated from the medical school there in 1975. "The summer after my junior year," she explains, "I worked in Dr. Bloom's lab in genetics and attended a genetic counseling clinic. I fell in love with medicine." In her work as a neurosurgeon, she saw young patients facing life-threatening illnesses, gunshot wounds, head trauma, hydrocephaly, and other brain injuries or diseases. Throughout her twenty-year career in pediatric neurosurgery, Dr. Canady has helped thousands of patients, most of them age ten or younger.
Her career began tentatively. She almost dropped out of college while a mathematics major, because "I had a crisis of confidence," she has said. When she heard of a chance to win a minority scholarship in medicine, "it was an instant connection." Her additional skills in writing and debate helped her earn a place in the University of Michigan Medical School, and she graduated cum laude in 1975.
Such credentials still could not shield her from prejudice and dismissive comments. As a young black woman completing her surgical internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1975, on her first day of residency, she was tending to her patients when one of the hospital's top administrators passed through the ward. As he went by, she heard him say, "Oh, you must be our new equal-opportunity package." Just a few years later, while working as a neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia from 1981 to 1982, her fellow physicians voted her one of the top residents.
Dr. Canady was chief of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital of Michigan from 1987 until her retirement in June 2001. She 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 Dr. Canady Michiganer of the Year.
What was my biggest obstacle?
Convincing the neurosurgery chairman that I was not a risk to drop out or be fired, a disaster in a program where there are only one or two residents per year. I was the first African American woman [in the department]. Along with that, my other greatest obstacle was convincing myself that someone would give me a chance to work as a neurosurgeon.
How do I make a difference?
I tried hard to be accessible to patients and to make them unafraid of me so we could have free and open conversations. We also tried to arrange the patient care considering the needs of the families.
How has my career evolved over time?
I was worried that because I was a black woman, any practice opportunities would be limited. By being patient-centered, the practice growth was exponential.
Compiled from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_53.html, Wikipedia and http://www.csupomona.edu/~nova/scientists/articles/can.html.