In preparation for delivering the 10th annual Olga M. Jonasson, MD, Lecture, I reviewed previous Jonas- son lecturers and immediately noticed that my career
intersected with the first three presenters: Nancy L.
Ascher, MD, PhD, FACS; Anna M. Ledgerwood, MD,
FACS; and Karin M. Muraszko, MD, FACS. 1
Dr. Ascher is chief of surgery, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and a major contributor to
organ transplantation research. Nancy and I shared time
together at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,
where she was senior to me by a few years. Due to the
fact there were only six women in all the programs, I
got to know her and recognized, even as a resident, that
she would go on to a distinguished career.
Dr. Ledgerwood was a legend at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, where I spent most of my career.
Everyone knew that Dr. Ledgerwood and her longtime colleague Charles E. Lucas, MD, FACS, were the
heart and soul of DMC [Detroit Medical Center] Detroit
The third Jonasson lecturer, Dr. Muraszko, is chairman of neurosurgery, University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor, 45 miles down the road from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan where I practiced, and we have been
friends and colleagues for years.
So, now, I would like to talk about my journey in
neurosurgery. I am going to talk about neurosurgery because that is what I know, but it applies to
journeys in general surgery, orthopaedics, and other
surgical specialties, as well.
The journey to neurosurgery
How does one decide to become a neurosurgeon? I
went to medical school expecting to become a family
practice physician or an internist, but I didn’t enjoy
studying the physiology of the gastrointestinal tract and
the lungs, so that pretty much eliminated the medical
specialties. Fortunately, the University of Michigan had
started a new two-year course, neurobehavioral science, with a combination of neuroanatomy, psychiatry,
neurology, and neurosurgery. This mix of clinical and
basic sciences was well-taught and exciting, and it was
something I found I could study for fun.
The summer after my second year in medical
school, I shadowed a pediatric neurologist as well as
a neurosurgeon. Needless to say, I liked neurosurgery
better. It has an inherent honesty. You make a diagnosis, and at the end of the day, you are right or wrong.
The possibility of being wrong sometimes brings fear.
When I was in practice, an eight-year-old boy was
transferred to us for what appeared to be a stroke. But
as I looked at the images, something did not seem right,
so I asked for an angiogram, which also was equivocal.
I talked with my associate and asked him to keep me
from doing something crazy. When I told him about
the clinical history that wasn’t quite right and the imaging that wasn’t quite right, he said, “You may be wrong,
but not crazy.” So, I took the boy to the operating room
(OR). As I stood there making the brain incision I was
extremely anxious but relieved when a small, discrete,
dark burgundy mass was exposed, which turned out to
be lymphoma. These are the moments for which we
read and study. We are right, or we are wrong, but in
surgery there is a final answer.
After my preceptorships, I essentially became a
neurosurgery groupie. I was at every neurosurgery
conference my schedule allowed, including those on
Saturday mornings. I soon knew most of the faculty
and all the residents; occasionally, I even got called on
during the conference. I was all in for neurosurgery.
Surprisingly, my parents, who had supported me in
all my ventures, for the first time actively discouraged
me from neurosurgery. They thought I wouldn’t get in
• Describes the career path of the first African-
American woman neurosurgeon in the U.S.
• Outlines challenges faced by minority physicians
• Explains the benefits of peer support for the
success of women and minority physicians
• Summarizes the benefit of retirement
planning to avoid surgeon burnout
Right: Dr. Canady
Opposite: Dr. Canady with a
young patient (photo courtesy of
Children's Hospital of Michigan)