Brain Byte

Black History Is: Alexa Irene Canady

  • Published27 Feb 2024
  • Author Cyrenna Cooper
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

Alexa Irene Canady became the first African American woman neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981.

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Alexa Irene Canady became the first African American woman neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981 after completing her residency at the University of Minnesota. But prior to that, she had almost dropped out of the University of Michigan due to what Canady refers to as a “crisis of confidence” while pursuing a math major as an undergraduate. She shifted her sights to medicine after acquiring an interest in genetics and hearing of a minority scholarship opportunity in medicine. She graduated with a zoology degree in 1971 and later from the University of Michigan’s College of Medicine magna cum laude in 1975. The same year, she was accepted as the first Black surgical intern at Yale New Haven Hospital where her interest in neurosurgery began.

In 1987, at age 36, Canady became a neurosurgeon and Chief of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She retired in 2001, after a 22-year career helping thousands of patients, most of them children. But upon finding there was not a pediatric neurosurgeon near her new retirement home in Florida, she came out of retirement, and worked at Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Hospital for 11 years before truly retiring in 2012. After a successful career with many awards, such as the American Medical Women's Association President's Award and being inducted into the Michigan Woman's Hall of Fame, Canady remains an advocate for women of color in medicine.

Design by Adrienne Tong




Black History Month: Dr. Alexa Irene Canady. (2022, February 1). Families Fighting Flu.

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady. (2015). Changing the Face of MedicineU.S. National Library of Medicine. 

Ott, C. (2007, January 18). Alexa Canady (1950- ). BlackPast. 

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