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Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Pioneers written in black text with a light blue background. Above the text is an image of three surgeons standing in an operating room performing surgery with several nurses and attendants observing.  Courtesy Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Contemporary Pioneers written in white text with a purple background. Above the text is an image of Alexa Canady preparing for surgery. Courtesy Detroit Free Press/Hugh Glannum. New Frontiers written in black text with a blue background. bove the text is an image of a head shot of a women surgeon wearing a mask, cap and protective eyewear.  Courtesy Sharon Henry, M.D. and Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems. History written in black text with a yellow background. Above the text is an image of an illustration of a building with a flag flying at the top. Courtesy National Library of Medicine.

If you want to be something, you have to perceive that something is possible written in white text with a purple background

Portrait style image of a women wearing glasses and wearing a red dress. Courtesy Alexa M. Canady Dr. Canady believes that “Surgery is a service business. You provide a service as unobtrusively as possible. But you must be human. In order to provide good quality care, it is so important that patients are able to talk to you and not regard you as some deity above them.”


Alexa Canady (1950- ) is a leading pediatric neurosurgeon and educator.

Her “patient-care first” approach, her ability to set her patients at ease, and her down-to-earth attitude have all contributed to her success as a pediatric neurosurgeon.


Born in Lansing, Michigan, she came from a well educated, intellectual family with a strong tradition of public service where education and intellectual pursuits were encouraged. Alexa attended school in the predominantly white public school system and excelled in academics.Woman wearing surgical scrubs and mask looking through a microscope while during surgery.  Courtesy Yale University

She attended the University of Michigan completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology in 1971 and received her medical degree from University of Michigan's College of Medicine in 1975.

Surgeon in scrubs, mask, gloves and cap seated at an operating table.  Courtesy Detroit Free Press/Hugh Glannum Dr. Canady completed her surgical internship at New Haven Hospital - Yale University and became the first African American woman neurosurgery resident in the United States when she was accepted as a resident at the University of Minnesota.

Much of her surgical career was spent at the Children's Hospital of Michigan where through her efforts the neurosurgery program achieved national recognition as a top pediatric neurosurgery department in the United States. After only four years at Children's Hospital, she became chief of the neurosurgery department at the age of 36. She retired after 18 years having trained all four of the remaining neurosurgeons.Group of women in surgical scrubs and white medical coats standing and seating in conversation.  Courtesy Detroit Free Press/Hugh Grannum

Her academic career was spent at Wayne State University where she held the position of professor and vice-chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. She was a well respected teacher and received the Teacher of the Year award from Children's Hospital of Michigan and the Distinguished Service Award from Wayne State University.

Illustration of a medical device.  Courtesy U.S. Patent OfficeDuring her career, Dr. Canady engaged in research to make advances in neurosurgical techniques. This research led to the invention of a programmable antisiphon shunt to treat hydrocephalus, an abnormal accumulation of fluid inside the brain, for which she shares a U.S. patent with two fellow neurosurgeons.

Dr. Canady is currently semi-retired and a pediatric neurosurgeon at Sacred Heart Medical Group in Pensacola, Florida.

Although she had no ambition to be the dean of a medical school, she passed on her knowledge through her hands-on, “patient-care first” techniques, instilling these qualities in the surgeons she trained and those she worked alongside.

Colored crayon drawing illustrating a doctor and child patient in a hospital room.  Courtesy Jackson Digman Colored crayon drawing illustrating a doctor helping her child patient in a hospital room.  Courtesy Tanner Ruble Colored crayon drawing illustrating a doctor in hospital scrubs and cap.  Courtesy Imla Alvarenga

These images of Dr. Canady were created by students at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa
as part of a project titled Amazing Americans.

  • B.S. University of Michigan, 1971
  • M.D., University of Michigan, 1975
  • Surgical Intern, Yale University, 1975-76
  • Neurosurgery resident, University of Minnesota, 1976-1981
  • Chief of Neurosurgery, Children's Hospital Detroit, Michigan, 1987
  • Peter Schotanus Endowed Professorship in Pediatric Neurosurgery , Wayne State University, Detroit
  • Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Sacred Heart Medical Group, Pensacola, Florida