Leyia Oxendine

For Leyia Oxendine, home is where the heart is. It is one reason she looks forward to giving back to the local community that raised her as she graduates from Methodist University and prepares to become a physician assistant in Pembroke.

For Leyia Oxendine, home is where the heart is.

It is one reason Oxendine looks forward to giving back to the same local community that raised her as she graduates from Methodist University and prepares to become a physician assistant in Pembroke,  where she grew up a part of the Lumbee Tribe alongside two parents and four siblings.

“I had a great, enriching childhood,” Oxendine said. “My family spent a lot of time outdoors. We played sports and, in the summer, we would process, peas, and potatoes and have a big family garden.”

While Oxendine speaks highly of her upbringing in Robeson County, she also recalls some of the challenges that come with growing up in a rural community.

“I can remember my mom, who has a history of cardiac disease and works a very stressful job as a school principal, started having chest pains. When she called the doctor’s office, they told her it would take three months to see her. That’s when I realized that there’s a need in the community,” she said.

Leyia OxendineIt was one of the many lightbulb moments that sparked an interest in health care for Oxendine. In 2017, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from UNC at Pembroke and then spent the next four years as a nurse at Scotland Memorial Hospital and Cape Fear Valley Health. It was through those experiences that she realized she wanted to become a physician assistant.

Oxendine started exploring programs across North Carolina and quickly set her eyes on Methodist University’s Physician Assistant Studies Program.

“Methodist University is very special because it’s one of the only universities in the state to have a cadaver lab on campus, so you get to experience anatomy in a way that is so unique and special,” she said.

Along with the program’s small class sizes, strong support from the medical community, and a Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) pass rate that ranks competitively with the nation’s best, Oxendine knew she selected the right program.

Over the past 27 months, Oxendine not only successfully completed both the didactic and clinical phases of the program, but she stood out in the eyes of MU’s faculty.

“Leyia was such a fun student to teach,” said Dr. Susan Greer Fisher, clinical coordinator and associate professor of MU’s Physician Assistant Studies Program. “She is bright, caring, and has a great sense of humor. She is going to make an excellent PA, and I can’t wait to see what her future brings.”

Oxendine will officially earn her master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies this month, continuing a strong tradition of Lumbee graduates in MU’s Physician Assistant Studies Program. So far, 17 Lumbee Tribe members have graduated from the program with another four graduating this year – including Oxendine.

“It’s a huge blessing to be able to represent people from my community,” Oxendine said. “Sometimes, people scoff when they hear about the area, but I think very few people know the spirit of our population. We’re very hardworking people that would give you the shirt off their own back in a minute. It’s a humbling experience to be able to graduate for them.”

Oxendine was a recipient of the National Health Service Corp (NHSC) Scholarship, which offered a full-tuition scholarship. In return, she must commit to a minimum of three years of full-time service in a health professional shortage area – essentially, an area, population, or facility experiencing a lack of health care services.

Scholarship or not, Oxendine always intended on returning to her Pembroke community, where she plans on working in family medicine, serving the people she grew up with.

“It’s a very special population to me. Those are my people. It’s my hometown and I have a lot of investment both emotionally and culturally in the area. It’s a perfect fit for me,” she said.

With the long nights of studying finished for now, Oxendine looks forward to spending more time gardening, reading, and hanging out with family – especially her husband and parents who went above and beyond to support her.

“In second grade, I can remember struggling to do my schoolwork at my granddad’s house,” Oxendine said. “It took me so long to figure out how to read, but my mom would spend copious amounts of time at the table, encouraging me until I understood it. Then, my dad taught me the value of hard work. For me, this is a full circle experience for me to go to PA school and finish. It’s truly a gift to them.”

To learn more about Methodist University’s Physician Assistant program, visit the program web page.