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Oluwaseun Cole, D.P.T Class of 2023, Pursues Fifth Degree and Dream of Helping Others

Nigerian-born Oluwaseun Cole is fueled by his late relatives’ advice and inspired by his time in U.S. Armed Forces in pursuit of becoming a physical therapist

July 27, 2021
Oluwaseun Cole Headhshot

Mr. Cole’s journey up to becoming a part of the New York Medical College (NYMC) was no traditional path. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria where he lived until he was 18, being raised by his grandfather and his aunt. He came to the United States for his undergraduate studies,

“The pursuit of neuroscience graduate studies was as a result of my curiosity regarding developmental and intellectual disabilities,” Mr. Cole said. “I wanted to know what caused autism spectrum disorder.”

While nourishing his curiosity about autism, he was helping those who had it. Mr. Cole worked at an eight-bed home for students with autism in Staten Island, sponsored by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, where he was a residence manager who supervised the staff and operations of the home and developed individual educational programs for the students.

It was during Mr. Cole’s time in the United States Navy, from 2012 to 2016, when the seed of interest in physical therapy was planted—perhaps before he knew it. He served as a hospital corpsman, where he tended to patients and made sure sailors and marines were “mission-ready,” meaning they were medically cleared for their duties. He also worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was introduced to the Wounded Warriors Unit for injured soldiers to rehabilitate from their injuries. In 2014, Mr. Cole spoke with an injured veteran who had both of his legs amputated as a result of a roadside bombing while he was active duty, and the conversation had a lasting impact on Mr. Cole.

“He mentioned that his physical therapist was the most important medical practitioner in his life because his physical therapist did not just stop by for five minutes to check on him and then move on to other things—his physical therapist spent more time with him. That statement stuck with me,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Cole did not immediately pursue physical therapy however, first attaining an M.P.H. in 2018 with the hopes of becoming an occupational and environmental health officer in the Navy. Upon completing his master thesis, Mr. Cole applied to be an officer, not just the Navy but in the Air Force, Army and Coast Guard as well. He eventually selected the Air Force and became a second lieutenant. However, it was determined through a flight test, that he was color blind and therefore could not hold either of the two positions he was initially offered: a pilot or space operations officer, who assist in managing spacecraft flights and training. That did not deter Mr. Cole and he became a defensive cyberspace warfare officer in the Air Force for four and a half years, where he traveled the world including Turkey, Qatar, Germany, the United Kingdom and France, culminating with his promotion to the rank of captain in March of 2020. While stationed in San Antonio during the last two years of his service with the Air Force, Mr. Cole earned his Master of Arts in International Relations.

It wasn’t until 2020 when Mr. Cole finally embarked on his physical therapy studies at NYMC, inspired by the interaction he had with the wounded soldier six years prior and his grandmother’s experience recovering from a stroke when he was a teenager. Mr. Cole said it was the history of inclusion that helped him choose NYMC to study physical therapy.

“NYMC’s history and the opportunity it gives everyone regardless of color, creed, etc., is one of the reasons I chose to apply here.” Mr. Cole said.

Now pursuing his fifth degree, Mr. Cole continues to be driven by the same reasons from his undergraduate studies: family. “My primary motivating factors stem from my upbringing and not wanting to let my grandfather and aunt down even though they are both no longer alive. My grandfather would always tell me to do the right thing at the right time and never allow hurdles discourage my ambitions.”

Dedicating himself to becoming a physical therapist that positively impacts the lives of his patients, Mr. Cole is certainly on track to further fulfilling his grandfather’s advice.