Dr. Alexa Canady

Philanthropist, Producer, Talk Show Host, & Actress

“People are just not very ambitious for women still. Your son you want to be the best he can be. Your daughter you want to be happy.”

In 1981, Alexa Canady became the first female African American neurosurgeon in the United States.

Early Life

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.

Dr. Alexa Canady

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.

Medical Career

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.”

Dr. Alexa Canady

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.

Quick Facts

Birth Date:
November 7, 1950

  • Despite experiencing prejudice in school, she excelled academically, which showed in her test scores.
  • In 1971, she earned her bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Michigan.
  • In 1975, she graduated with cum laude honors from the University of Michigan Medical School.
  • She was strongly advised to not pursue neurosurgery because it would be difficult for her to get a residency in the field.
  • From 1975 to 1976, she became the first woman and first black surgical intern at the Yale-New Haven Hospital.
  • She said that she did not intend to make history but to merely pursue the field she wanted.
  • While working at the children’s hospital, she also worked as a Professor of Neurosurgery at the Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where she also worked on research.
  • Even though she had already retired in 2001, she still worked as a medical consultant and part-time surgeon at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida from 2001 until her full retirement in 2012.
  • Dr. Alexa Canady
  • Dr. Alexa Canady
  • Dr. Alexa Canady


BIO: Biography.com + Wikipedia.com
PHOTO: Refinery29.com + Biography.com + Pinterest.com + TheGryphon.co.uk + RosalindFranklin.edu

Last Updated

May 2021

Original Published Date

May 2021

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