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Biography: Alexa I. Canady

Alexa I. Canady

Alexa I. Canady, M.D., (1950–) believes that “Surgery is a service business. You provide a service as unobtrusively as possible. But you must be human. 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.” 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. Canady attended school in a predominantly white public school system and excelled in academics. She received her medical degree from the University of Michigan and completed her neurosurgical residency at the University of Minnesota.

As the first African American woman neurosurgeon, Dr. Canady spent much of her surgical career 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.

Her academic career was spent at Wayne State University where she held the position of professor and vice-chair 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. During 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. She shares a U.S. patent for the shunt with two fellow neurosurgeons. After retiring and moving to Florida in 2001, Dr. Canady was convinced to return to work as the only pediatric neurosurgeon in her area. She served as a part-time surgeon at Sacred Heart Medical Group in Pensacola, Florida, until 2012 when she retired fully.

Although she had no interest in being 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.