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First Black chief of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan paves the way for others

Feb 15, 2021

She spent her career breaking glass ceilings, but Dr. Alexa Canady didn’t realize the impact she had for a while as the first Black chief of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

“I didn’t realize that until actually several years later, when I started doing talking to some kids. And I realized that it changed their perception of what was possible for them and that is really the most important part,” said Dr. Canady.

Canady spent her career caring for chronically ill children.

“You know them for 15 or 20, years, and some of them of course, some of them are rich, you see all kinds of families you see all the different ways that families work, and you learn that everybody has something to give. Everybody has something to teach you. And you need to listen to what they teach you,” she said.

Dr. Canady’s perspective as the first Black female neurosurgeon in the country and as chief of her department helped change the culture of medicine.

“I want the healthcare system to understand that it’s a real job to improve the health of the community in total. And in order to do that, they need to represent the community, because all of the different perspectives and viewpoints and biases that are present and everyone has biases can be counterbalanced, if you have a diverse population,” she said.

Her longtime colleague Dr. Neena Marupudi, a pediatric neurosurgeon, says Dr. Canady had an undeniable impact on patient care.

“She was confident. She didn’t let others define her. Just the way she interacted with colleagues with trainees. This sense of equality is something that I think helped her to establish this pervasive need for treating people well and just caring for people,” said Marupudi.

While the pandemic has highlighted long-standing racial disparities in healthcare there has been progress. The state’s chief medical executive is the accomplished Dr. Joneigh Kaldhun.

“I don’t get excited about it. I think it’s appropriate finally we’re getting recognitions, people who have skills should be able to use those skills,” said Dr. Canady.

And decades before the pandemic Dr. Canady was paving the way for every Black and brown doctor who came after her.

“I think I was the one who was trying to build something because I was the youngest. So I had the energy and the desire to build. So sometimes it’s just you’re in the right place at the right time,” she said.

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