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Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady-Davis was the first African American woman in the United States to become a neurosurgeon. Canady-Davis was born to Elizabeth Hortense (Golden) Canady and Dr. Clinton Canady, Jr., a dentist, on November 7, 1950, in Lansing, Michigan. After graduating from Lansing High School in 1967, Canady-Davis received her B.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1971 and her M.D. degree (cum laude) from the College of Medicine at the University of Michigan in 1975. Between 1975 and 1976, Canady-Davis completed an internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She next trained as a resident in neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota between 1976 and 1981.

After a fellowship in pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia between 1981 and 1982, Canady-Davis returned home to Michigan and joined the Neurosurgery Department at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. In 1983, she was hired at Children’s Hospital of Michigan where she later became Chief of Neurosurgery in 1987. Before that, Canady-Davis was certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery in 1984. In 1985, she began teaching at Wayne State University School of Medicine as a Clinical Instructor of Neurosurgery. In 1997, she was elevated to Professor of Neurosurgery at Wayne’s School of Medicine. In 1988, she married George Davis, a U.S. Navy recruiter. From 1987 to 2001, Canady-Davis was Chief of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Her areas of expertise are cranio-facial abnormalities, hydrocephalus, tumors of the brain, and congenital spine abnormalities.

Upon retirement from the position of Chief of Neurosurgery in 2001, Canady-Davis moved to Pensacola, Florida with her husband, also retired—a city that he had lived in during part of his career in the Navy. But, after several years of retirement, Canady-Davis was lured back to surgery as a consultant and to a part-time surgical practice at the Sacred Heart Medical Group Hospital.

Canady-Davis has received numerous professional recognitions, including being named Woman of the Year by the American Women’s Medical Association in 1993, as well as being inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She mentors young people by speaking at high schools in the Pensacola area, hoping that her accomplishments are helping to inspire the dreams of younger generations.

Canady-Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers October 16, 2006.

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Everett High School

Dwight Rich Middle School

West Junior High School

Lewton School

University of Michigan

First Name


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Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Favorite Quote

It Is About The Work.

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Interview Description
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Favorite Food

Lamb (Leg)

Short Description

Neurosurgeon Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis (1950 - ) was the first African American female neurosurgeon in the United States.


Yale New Haven Hospital

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Henry Ford Hospital

Children's Hospital of Michigan

Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola

University of Minnesota

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her mother's career and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her father's career and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her elementary school experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her experiences at Lansing's Lewton School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her academic interests during her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her family life as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her high school experiences in Lansing

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her extracurricular activities as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her experiences at the University of Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes medical school at the University of Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis recalls her internship at Yale New Haven Hospital

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis recalls the start of her career in neurosurgery

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis talks about specializing in pediatric neurosurgery

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis recalls her tenure at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis recalls beginning her surgery career in Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her tenure at Children's Hospital of Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her husband, George Davis

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis talks about retiring from Children's Hospital of Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her professional activities in neurosurgery, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her professional activities in neurosurgery, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her work mentoring teenagers and doctors

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis talks about the African American medical community

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her life in Pensacola, Florida

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis reflects upon her career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes how she would like to be remembered







Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis recalls the start of her career in neurosurgery
Dr. Alexa Canady-Davis describes her tenure at Children's Hospital of Michigan
So you're off to the University of Minnesota [University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota] to do your specialty.$$Right.$$Tell me about those years--$$It was fun (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) and what--$$--being back--$$--what did--$$--in the Midwest. I didn't realize how much of a Midwesterner I was until I came back from the East Coast. I'd always thought I was gonna live on the East Coast, but I love the Midwest better, it's my style. So, walking across the campus I knew, I felt at home right away.$$So what did that training involve? What did you do year by year, what kind of things were you, did you have to work at?$$You have to learn how to recognize sick people, and then how to do something about it, and then how to operate on them. So, it's a gradual process. It's a pretty brutal schedule, in those days we used to start every morning at six and you were on call all night every third night and you had to come on Saturday and you had to come on Thursday twice a month for a conference and then, what else? You got home about eight o'clock on the nights you were off, so you didn't do much other than neurosurgery.$$This is all training now?$$Right.$$--this is all training and that was how many years?$$Five years.$$Five years?$$Um-hm.$$How do you remember your very first surgery?$$First surgery I did by myself.$$Yeah?$$I was scared. I was totally scared. You know, and you realize that, it's like you and there's nobody standing behind you.$$What was the operation? What was the condition?$$It was a young girl who was living with an older man and who tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in the head.$$Um-hm.$$Very sad story.$$Um-hm. Did she live?$$Yes, she did.$$What was your next major surgery that you did alone, do you recall?$$The other most impressive one for me that I did alone, or you know, with people watching but not helping, was when I was a fellow, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]. And I did an arteriovenous malformation, it took us about twenty hours.$$Okay, would you repeat that again? It was a?$$And arteriovenous malformation in young boy, that took about twenty hours.$$How old was the young man?$$He was like twelve.$$Um-hm. And it was a twenty-hour (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right.$$--operation?$$Right. And Luis Schut, my mentor, was like walking nervously in the halls, tried to keep his hands out.$$Um-hm. So each one of these early surgeries and I guess maybe all of them were very stressful? Are they not straining?$$They are I think, but, it--if, you can't really think about it too much, if you do then you need to go do something else. It has to somewhere along the process, become your everyday job. Otherwise, you don't survive.$So in 1987 I believe approximately, you went to the Children's Hospital of Michigan [Detroit, Michigan]?$$Nineteen eighty-two [1982].$$Nineteen eighty-two [1982], I'm sorry.$$Right.$$Okay.$$Actually '83 [1983], I went to the Children's Hospital, I went to Henry Ford [Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan] in '82 [1982].$$Okay, all right. Well tell me about that long tenure, you were there for, until 2001?$$Right. I loved it (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Tell me about--$$I absolutely loved--$$--that tenure.$$--the hospital.$$Okay.$$I still love the hospital.$$Yeah.$$It was a hospital whose mission was taking care of anybody who was sick and they meant it. And one of the joys of a pediatric hospital is you get pediatric types and by and large, everybody who does pediatrics makes less money than they would doing adults of the same type. So, that's selects for a certain kind of person, which makes wonderful companions to practice with over the years. I mean, the people who are there are interested primarily in doing the right thing and it, an environment like the Children's Hospital of Michigan, where the commitment is to doing the right thing. It's just a joyous place to work.$$Um-hm. You're quoted here in another interview that you did, I don't remember the place or the time. But, you said that your profession, your specialty allows you to get into the interior of people.$$Right.$$What did you mean by that?$$Well, by and large, what I do is involved with the most traumatic thing in most people's lives, and so that lets you in, and because of pediatrics, we tend to take care of people over time, you become part of the family, you get to watch them grow up, you get, you know them intimately. You know, if you take care of someone for ten, or fifteen or twenty years, you know them, they know you, it's a relationship.$$Tell me about one of the families that you currently are still engaged with, because of what you've just told me? Are there any families that you still?$$I had a mother just called me last week to tell that her son died, who I took care of from the time he was a baby. He had a seizure, and had a problem from the seizure, and was found dead really. But I thought it--I was very moved that she would call me after all these years, I mean I haven't been in Detroit [Michigan] in five years now, and, and know that I would want to know.$$Um-hm.$$And, so I--$$Tell me more about this place that you--$$The Children's Hospital (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) that you love so much?$$--of Michigan?$$Yeah.$$It's a children's hospital in downtown Detroit, it's a good-sized hospital, it's about, it's about a 250-bed hospital, somewhere, 225, 250-bed hospital, it's part of the Detroit Medical Center [Detroit, Michigan] and part of the Wayne State University medical school [Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan]. And it is a full service, it has all pediatric specialties, pediatric cardiac, pediatric orthopedics, pediatric neurology. It has a large intensive care unit, probably thirty beds.$$Um-hm. Now, you moved up in, quote, the ranks, at this hospital?$$I did.$$Tell me about the progression of your moving up into (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) My progression was pretty abrupt actually. I was there for a few years and my senior partner left and I became chief.$$You became the chief?$$Yeah, so I was the chief beginning about when I was thirty-five, give or take a little.$$Um-hm.$$So I was chief for most of the time I was there.$$Um-hm. Now what new responsibilities did you have as the chief?$$Well I think, you have the administrative responsibilities, which in a small department aren't huge, but you have to set the tone, you, I mean your responsibility is setting the tone and picking the people to match your vision of what you want your department to be. I wanted my department to be very patient-centered department, where things were easy for the patients, where the patients felt they were part of the team, where we gave them a lot of information and let them participate in the decision making in a meaningful way, and that I think we succeeded in that.$$Now--$$At my retirement, the families came to the conference.$$Oh wow.$$So that was very much in keeping with, with my philosophy.