A general program that focuses on the scientific study of the functional dynamics, morphology, and biochemical and biophysical communications within organisms and between living systems at all levels of complexity and integration. Includes instruction in reproduction, growth, hormonal action, vascular function, respiration, digestion, sensory perception and processing, sensorimotor integration, signal encoding and conveyance, homeostasis, physical function and malfunction, evolutionary physiology, and disease processes.

Careers in physiology focus on understanding processes that occur within the body and the mechanisms that drive them.

What makes the body work? Every function the body has comes as the result of a complex biochemical process; physiologists study the reactive and adaptive functions of cells, molecules, ions, and organs to gain a better sense of the body as a whole. This understanding can inform treatments and allow for the development of more effective solutions for maintaining balance.

One big area of physiology is communication between different parts and systems; for some, this extends beyond the human body into the world of animals and plants. Electrical activity is a big point of focus for many physiologists, particularly those who specialize in brain or heart functions. There are as many types of physiologists as there are ways for living things to be broken down into pieces, which work together like gears in a clock.

Work in physiology may include...

  • Monitoring the vital signs of subjects
  • Observing system and organ reactions to stimuli
  • Using medical devices to perform tests
  • Helping patients address their physical concerns
  • Analyzing, recording, and presenting data

Most physiology specialists work with patients in some capacity, as physicians, therapists, or nurses. These are clinical roles that call for both human interaction and specialized knowledge. Those who prefer to focus on theory or research tend to work in research labs run by hospitals or universities, or they might study, teach, write, or contribute to new discoveries. One specialty field that employs a number of physiologists is sports medicine; due to the prevalence of injuries, it can be helpful to have a specialist or consultant on board to advise in training or assist with accidents. Recreation centers and rehabilitation facilities also hire workers with knowledge of physiology, particularly as exercise program managers and physical therapists. They may work as EMTs, diagnostic technicians, or in any number of adjacent roles in medicine, bioengineering, or development.

Studying physiology as an undergraduate can lead to a number of fulfilling careers in the discipline. The path can vary depending on the path a student takes, but biology or biochemistry should be the focal point. Bachelor's of Science programs should include coursework in physiology, math, biophysics, and anatomy. Some jobs in the field are available to graduates, particularly those who have finished nursing programs; however, most aspiring physiologists opt for graduate study, which allows them to explore the discipline further. Master's degrees are a good choice for students who want to supervise work in labs or clinics, while those who want to conduct research may pursue PhDs and those with an interest in working with patients can opt for medical school or certification programs.

Physiology helps us to make sense of the things we often take for granted; if you're process oriented and want to understand what's behind everyday functions, maybe it's the field for you.

For more information, please follow the links below:

  • The American Physiological Society connects scientists, educators, trainees and students from around the world, driving collaboration and spotlighting scientific discoveries in physiology and related disciplines.
  • The Human Anatomy and Physiology Society promotes excellence in the teaching of anatomy and physiology, and has a membership consisting of professionals as well as students of all levels.
  • The American Society of Exercise Physiologists is committed to the advancement of exercise physiologists as healthcare professionals.
  • The Clinical Exercise Physiology Association advances the scientific and practical application of clinical exercise physiology for high risk or chronically ill patients, as well as advocacy, education, and career development.
  • The Physiological Society is Europe’s largest network of physiologists, promoting and publishing groundbreaking work within the discipline.