Dr. Alexa Irene Canaday (born November 7th, 1950 – still living) was the first African American woman to become a surgeon. She’s a pioneer in pediatric neurosurgery (brain and spine surgery for children) who spent considerable time in her career teaching other prospective doctors in the field as well as inspiring young children to pursue their dreams. Dr. Canaday always had a patient first approach to her work.
Despite receiving her Bachelor of Science in Zoology (study of animals), in 1971 at the University of Michigan, she was ultimately inspired to get into medicine through a summer program for African Americans that focused on genetics while getting her Bachelor’s.
Dr. Canaday accomplished a few firsts during her educational experience becoming a neurosurgeon. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she moved on to receive her Medical Doctorate at the University of Michigan College of Medicine in 1975.
From 1975-1976 she completed her surgical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital where she was the first African American woman to do so. Dr. Canaday was also the first African American to complete her residency at the University of Minnesota from 1976-1981. Then, from 1981-1982 she completed her fellowship in Pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
Contributions To Pediatric Neurosurgery
Dr. Alexa Canaday has worked in quite a few hospitals in the U.S. as well as spent a lot of time teaching and mentoring others during her career. In 1983 she went to Michigan to work in the Neurosurgery Department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She taught as a Clinical Instructor at Wayne State University in 1985. There in 1997 she moved on to become a Professor of Neurosurgery.
At age 36 in 1987 she became Chief of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital Detroit in Michigan where she specialized in treating a variety of conditions including hydrocephaly (fluid on the brain), tumors, spinal conditions, head trauma and more. Her contributions made the department the top pediatric neurosurgery program in the United States. She remained so until 2001.
- 1993 – Honored as Woman of The Year by the American Women’s Medical Association
- 1993 – Inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame
A programmable antisiphon shunt for hydrocephaly (U.S. Patent 6090062) was invented by Dr. Alexa Canaday along with two other neurosurgeons, Sandeep Sood and Steven D. Ham. It is designed to help drain excess fluid in the brain.
In 2001 Dr. Canaday temporarily and partially retired and practiced at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, FL. Her full retirement was in 2012. She enjoys mentoring high school children in that area to inspire them to achieve their goals.
As you can see, Dr. Canaday has accomplished many things in the field of Pediatric Neurosurgery. It is evident she has a strong passion for helping the children who suffered from a variety of neurological conditions. She also continues with her passion for the well-being of children by inspiring them to go for their dreams and to succeed in whatever they wish to accomplish. It is individuals such as Dr. Alexa Irene Canaday who truly have a passion and love for the well-being and future of humanity.
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