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How Do I Become a Physiologist?

Becoming a physiologist requires a thorough understanding of the body's systems.
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  • Written By: Hillary Flynn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2014
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A physiologist is a biological scientist who studies the functions of living organisms. To become a physiologist, one must complete an extensive academic program that begins with an undergraduate degree and often ends with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Most physiologists branch off into either plant, animal, or human physiology, and then focus on a specific function. Physiologists study life from the cellular level to whole organism systems and how they interact with the environment and other organisms. Some of the functions that might be studied are reproduction, growth, nutrition, and respiration.

The first step in the academic path to become a physiologist is to obtain a bachelor's degree with a focus on science. With so many different areas of physiology to consider, it's a good idea to seek a broad bachelor's degree and explore the various areas of specialization. Physiologists with a bachelor's degree will find jobs working under the supervision of more experienced and educated physiologists. A master's degree will help an aspiring physiologist gain more knowledge in a chosen area of focus, but a PhD or MD is required to lead a study or manage other physiologists. While still an undergraduate, it would also behoove those with plans to become a physiologist to obtain lab and research experience, as much of the field is focused on research.

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Many options are available for those who wish to become a physiologist. Physiologists work at universities, medical schools, hospitals, government agencies, private companies, and labs. Most will spend a good chunk of time researching, but they also teach, write grant proposals, write research papers, prepare data, and meet with other physiologists to discuss findings and keep abreast of any advancements made by other scientists. The field of physiology is ever changing and thus, those interested in a physiology career should be prepared for and look forward to a lifetime of learning.

Other experience of value to those wanting to become a physiologist is teamwork. Though research is often independently led, scientists must work with other researchers, students, and the scientific community, so both interpersonal and management skills are key. Leading a research team requires the ability to communicate effectively so that steps are properly followed and research isn't compromised by ambiguous directions. Those interested in the field should begin collaborating with others to conduct laboratory or other experiments at an early age. This will give the aspiring physiologist the opportunity to determine whether or not scientific work is a good fit for his or her particular skill set.

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