Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1950, Dr. Alexa Irene Canady broke both gender and color barriers when she became the first African American woman neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981.
While majoring in zoology at the University of Michigan, Canady became interested in medicine after attending a summer camp on genetics for minority students.
After receiving her B.S. in 1971, Canady graduated cum laude from the College of Medicine at the University of Michigan in 1975.
While she was initially interested in internal medicine, Canady later developed an interest in neurosurgery. She was accepted as a surgical intern at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1975. She was the first Black woman to be enrolled in the hospital’s program.
“I made it to Minnesota for residency, and before I knew it, I was a neurosurgeon. I had achieved my dream,” Canady wrote in a personal essay for the University of Michigan. “And that’s all it was to me, because being the ‘first’ anything was never my goal.”
Canady said that it was not until she began talking to people in the community that she realized the importance of her milestone.
“One, it was important for the children, who would no longer see neurosurgery as yet another world that they couldn’t belong to. That’s the side everybody appreciates,” she said. “And that was equally important in changing society’s expectations. So while being first wasn’t important to me, it was important for many others.”
Dr. Canady served as the chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan from 1987 until her retirement in June 2001.