UNCP builds on strong reputation of preparing students for healthcare careers

Alexis Little earned her biology degree at Spring Commencement on May 4, 2024

Alexis Little was moved to tears as she read an email from the graduate admissions office at Methodist University.


For Little, they were tears of joy. The UNC Pembroke senior has dreamed of becoming a physician since volunteering with healthcare agencies in her community as a teenager. The letter was her official acceptance to the physician assistant program. 


"I immediately started crying," Little said, reflecting with a smile. "I've always known I wanted to be a public servant and, as a physician, I can offer people in my community a better quality of life through healthcare. By getting accepted to PA school, I'll have the opportunity to follow my dreams."


Little earned her biology degree from UNCP on Saturday, May 4, and will enroll in the physician's assistant program at Methodist in the fall. The Lumberton, N.C., native and member of the Health Careers Access Program (NC-HCAP) joins other HCAP pre-health students, including Nevaeh Roverato and Malia Locklear, who have been accepted to highly competitive professional and medical schools in North Carolina and nationwide. Roverato will be continuing her studies at UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Locklear earned a spot in the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Campbell University.


Methodist receives more than 1,000 applications each year for its physician assistant program. Only 40 are accepted. Little––whose younger brother is also studying biology at UNCP––considers it an honor to be selected for the reputable program and credits the support from HCAP, which is designed to help diversify the health profession.


After completing an internship with Dr. Charlene Locklear, a UNCP alumnae and owner of TruCare Family Practice, Little is leaning toward a career in family medicine. 


"I learned so much while shadowing Dr. Locklear," Little said. "That experience opened my eyes and gave me a different mindset about which area I want to practice. Medicine always evolves, so I like being challenged to find new treatments."


UNCP has a strong record of undergraduate students being accepted to prominent and competitive health care training programs. Dr. Velinda Woriax, chair of the Department of Biology, said, like other institutions, there’s a central focus at UNCP on academic rigor, research involvement, experiential learning and participatory volunteering. 


“However, our uniqueness lies in strong, dedicated advisement and the personal attention that our students receive through collaborative interactions between faculty, staff and students,” Woriax remarked. 


At UNCP, students are taught the importance of making connections through the local community and practicing mindfulness, allowing them to be trained in the humanistic side of patient interaction. Building a more intimate approach forms more of a family unit structure, which is invaluable for student success. 


“There is a feeling of greater satisfaction in knowing we have done a great job in collectively preparing our students to be successful during the application process and their resultant matriculation into health care programs,” Woriax continued.


After her time at Methodist, Little plans to return home and practice in Robeson County, which is recognized as having some of the worst population health statistics. To help combat these staggering outcomes and meet the region's healthcare needs, UNCP has expanded its STEM programs with the recent addition of a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)––the university's first-ever doctoral program. Theses programs will be housed in the $91 million Allied Health and Sciences Building in the future, where the next generation of pre-health students, like Little, will be trained to address the region's health care needs.