What does a physiologist do?

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What is a Physiologist?

While anatomy is the study of the body’s structures, physiology is the study of how those structures work. Physiologists, therefore, are biologists who study the mechanisms and functions of living organisms and their parts.

They may investigate the behavior of individual proteins in single cells; research the interaction of cells in tissues, organs, and systems; or study the integrated behavior of the whole body and the influence of the external environment.

What does a Physiologist do?

Physiologists aim to understand every aspect of the way human, animal, and plant bodies work, both in health and in response to disease. Their work provides the foundation for many biological and clinical sciences, including medicine and veterinary science, and facilitates the development of new treatments and guidelines for maintaining human and animal health.

Three students of physiology examining anatomical model in classroom.

Physiologists study how body structures work. Those who study the human body focus on one or more of the physiological organ systems which perform different functions in the body, as well as on how these systems work together to keep us alive.

When we become sick or injured, our normal physiology is disrupted. Understanding this altered state or ‘pathophysiology’ is another aspect of what physiologists do.

The major systems of human physiology studied by physiologists are:

  • The cardiovascular system – the heart and blood vessels
  • The digestive system – the stomach, intestines, and other organs that digest food
  • The endocrine system – glands that make hormones, the chemicals that control many body functions
  • The immune system – the body’s defense against germs and disease
  • The integumentary system – the skin, hair, nails, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands (secreting an oily or waxing substance)
  • The muscular system – the muscles that move the body
  • The nervous system – the brain, spinal cord, and nerves; the control center for all of the other physiological systems, which facilitates communication between the systems
  • The renal system – the kidneys and accessory organs that regulate the composition of fluids in the body
  • The reproductive system – the male and female sex organs and many other accessories and supporting organs
  • The respiratory system – the lungs and airways
  • The skeletal system – bones, joints, cartilage, and connective tissues

Job duties for physiologists at the beginning of their careers may include the following:

  • Monitor medical patients’ vital signs during exercise or cardiopulmonary diagnostic testing and deliver findings to physicians
  • Operate and maintain medical devices and instruments used to perform cardiopulmonary exercise stress tests
  • Teach anatomy, physiology, or laboratory courses at an undergraduate or graduate level
  • Conduct experiments in a laboratory setting and deliver test results to a supervising physician or physiologist
  • Conduct pharmaceutical research projects under the direction of a supervisor

More senior physiologists will:

  • Establish research laboratories and ensure that all lab procedures are being followed
  • Design and lead research projects, analyze findings, and present those findings to internal and external audiences in the form of clear and compelling reports
  • Supervise laboratory staff and monitor progress of patients or studies

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What is the workplace of a Physiologist like?

Approximately one third of physiologists in the United States are involved in research and development (R&D) in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. These medical scientists may work exclusively in a government or private laboratory setting or spend time in the field studying how organisms react in real-world conditions. Their research and testing may lead to the development of antidotes, vaccines, and other preventative measures.

Just over a quarter of physiologists in the US are employed in education, as lecturers and researchers at colleges, universities, and medical schools.

Others work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, conducting studies and research or performing medical diagnostics; or with pharmaceutical firms conducting medical R&D for drugs.

Physiologists are also known as:
Exercise Physiologist Cell Physiologist Plant Physiologist Animal Physiologist Clinical Physiologist