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Dr. Alexa Canady: first African American woman neurosurgeon in the United States

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“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.” This biography and interview of Dr Alexa Canady Via Changing the face of Medicine

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.


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