What Is a Physiologist? All You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered how science continues to discover new methods and formulas to lengthen the life of humans, animals, and plants? Physiologists are to thank for that.
Physiologists, not to be confused with physiotherapists or physicians, study living systems and their functions. As they work to better understand living things, we’re here to better understand their roles and responsibilities.
So, what is a physiologist, and how to become one?

Types of Physiologists

Since physiology has a broad scope of study, physiologists usually choose a specialization. This lets them study their chosen field more extensively.
Here are the possible areas physiologists can specialize in:

Animal Physiologist

Animal physiologists concentrate on the study of animals, specifically the structure of their cells and organs. If you decide to become one, your field of work will include the observation of the behaviors of animals both in captivity and in the wild.
As an animal physiologist, you can also be greatly involved with zoologists, biochemists, and biophysicists as research and studies overlap in these fields.

Cell Physiologist

Simply put, cell physiologists deal with human cells. As a cell physiologist, you’ll be involved with the study of the structure of the ion channels and transporters and their roles in the human body. You’ll also be studying damaged cells and working to improve modern treatments.
As a whole, this field contributes to improved healthcare programs.

Clinical Physiologist

Clinical physiologists, sometimes called a medical physiologist, are concerned with how the human body functions in different circumstances.
As a clinical physiologist, you can assist doctors and other healthcare providers in diagnosing and treating health problems.
You can also focus on other disciplines of medicine such as:
  • Audiology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Cardiology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Pulmonology
  • Neurology

Exercise Physiologist

The biggest part of what exercise physiologists do is analyze people’s fitness levels to improve their quality of life. Instead of the usual diagnosis, your main responsibility is to guide patients towards their optimal wellness through physical exercises.
You’d be exposed to therapeutic as well as physical approaches to treating chronic conditions such as:
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Lung and respiratory illnesses
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Mental illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Diabetes
Exercise physiologists can work in different work environments, including rehabilitation centers, fitness centers, hospitals, and medical centers.

Plant Physiologist

In a nutshell, plant physiologists study the functions of living plants. From their physical, chemical, and biological functions to their interactions with environmental factors, plant psychologists analyze these on a microscopic level.
More often than not, you’ll see plant psychologists work in research laboratories. Their research is crucial in the agricultural industry since they’re largely responsible for the improvement of pest controls. They also explore new ways to increase food production to help reduce its scarcity.

Work Environment for Physiologists

Of course, different specializations require different work environments, but some of the most common environments that physiologists work in are health agencies, research facilities, and universities.

Health Agencies

Clinical physiologists work the most in health agencies. Since their specialization primarily deals with the human body, most clinical physiologists work alongside doctors to diagnose and treat patients.
Other physiologists that can be typically seen in health agencies are exercise physiologists. You may think they automatically belong to athletic training facilities because of their job description, but in fact, exercise physiologists can work in health agencies, especially if they’re administering physical therapies.

Research Facilities

Most types of physiologists can work in research facilities. Since physiology is the science of life, and life continues to evolve, research is a critical part.
For physiologists that deal with microsized subjects, research facilities are usually the most common go-to place of work. This is most prevalent in cell physiologists and plant physiologists.


If you’re not interested in research or being in the actual field of your specialization, another option is to work for a university.
The skill sets and proficiency you’ve acquired from your own university study can be used to impart knowledge on others.

The Road to Becoming a Physiologist

Now that you’re aware of the different types of physiologists and their different environments, how can you become a physiologist? Here’s how:

Choosing a Specialty

Before diving into what kind of bachelor’s degree you’ll need, ask yourself, what is it in physiology are you actually interested in?
Knowing this beforehand can save you time and money since different specialties require different levels of education.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree

Physiologists require a bachelor’s degree at the least. As for which major is the most preferred, it depends on your chosen specialty.
For clinical, plant, and cell physiologists, it’s common to take majors in chemistry or biology if your university doesn’t offer a degree in physiology.
For animal physiologists, you’ll be required to have a major that deals with animal science. Lastly, for exercise physiologists, you may want to take a degree in kinesiology or nutrition.

Earning a Graduate Degree

A graduate degree for physiologists is almost a necessity.
Earning both a master’s degree and a doctorate degree are required for physiologists who are looking to land a clinical or research position.
Through these programs, you’ll get to study other scientific fields such as pharmacology, cellular and molecular physiology, and biological physiology.
For exercise physiologists, a bachelor’s degree is usually enough. If you’re looking to advance in the field, though, a master’s degree can improve your chances.

Gaining Work Experience

Say that you’ve received all the educational requirements needed to become a physiologist, what now?
Here’s the most exciting part! You get to gain work experience and apply your acquired knowledge in your chosen field.
Of course, you can’t immediately expect a high position after graduating even with a doctorate degree. Applying for entry-level positions and research opportunities are the common roads of physiologists after graduation. Some even start their research careers during their graduate studies!
Having these work experiences allows you to expand your knowledge and expose yourself in different circumstances of your discipline. This is important to develop your work experience and encourage your career growth.
What if, after your bachelor’s degree in physiology, you decide that it’s not for you? Here are some careers related to physiology so your degree doesn’t go to waste:


With your acquired knowledge in fields like chemistry and pharmacology, you can become a pharmacologist.
Pharmacologists study the interactions of drugs with the body. They also largely contribute to the discovery of new medicines, so laboratory research can still be expected.

Medical Sales Representative

As a medical sales representative, you’ll be tasked to contact doctors and clinics to sell them various healthcare supplies and instruments.
You’ll have to use your personable skills along with your scientific knowledge to convince clients to buy your products.

Research Assistant

This entry-level position is perfect if you have an eye for detail and organization.
As a research assistant, you’re expected to contribute in the development or in the experimental aspect of the research. Because of this, you can expect to be more involved in documentations and presentations.


Being a physiologist takes great amounts of effort and comes with a lot of responsibility.
Regardless of what type of physiologists you choose to pursue, your contributions to research will definitely help the scientific community.
You might not win a Nobel Prize for these contributions, but rest assured that your efforts will have a positive impact.
So, the next time you wonder, “What is a physiologist?” Remember that they’re scientists who help improve anything and everything that deals with living things.