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What Does a Clinical Physiologist Do?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2014
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A clinical physiologist is a medical professional who works alongside doctors to diagnose, treat, and anticipate a variety of health concerns and injuries. What a clinical physiologist does on a day-to-day basis is mostly a factor of his or her training, specialty, and job setting. All of them work directly with patients, however, treating, examining, and educating about certain conditions. The field is a large one, and there are many opportunities for diverse work.

Clinical physiologists are medical professionals who work closely with the science of the body, but they are not typically doctors or physicians. Rather than going to medical school, physiologists attend specialized degree programs, often at the master’s degree level. Most of the time, they specialize in one specific area. Sports physiology, neurophysiology, and respiratory physiology are a few of the many focus areas generally available.

Physiology, like most medical sciences, depends on extensive research. Some graduates will necessarily branch into research divisions, spending their days understanding the science behind improving outpatient procedures, developing new drugs for specific injuries or recurring illnesses, or working on improving prosthetic technology, to name a few. Students typically choose either clinical or research tracks in the early part of their physiologist training programs. A clinical physiologist will spend more time with patients than in the lab.

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The designation “clinical” indicates that the graduate will be working alongside patients, providing active care. Many work on staff in hospitals, assessing the injuries and ailments of admitted patients and collaborating with doctors on care and treatment plans. They can be assigned to patients recovering from major accidents or illnesses, and often work as part of a patient’s medical team, helping them along the way to recovery. This kind of clinical physiologist works with a rotating group of patients, often seeing multiple people with various conditions in a single day. He or she will examine patients, study lab work, and assess conditions from various treatment perspectives.

Different jurisdictions have different licensing rules and practice restrictions on non-doctors like physiologists, but most are able to actively help with treatments. After the doctor has made a medical assessment and prescribed treatment plan, a physiologist is often the one to carry it out, or help the patient to understand how to carry it out for himself or herself. Most of the time, a physiologist is much more involved in recovery and rehabilitation than is the treating physician.

Clinical physiology is also in demand in the private sector, and many professionals work with private clinics and organizations to provide basic treatment services. Most privatized professionals work directly within their specialty, seeing only patients with particular conditions or medical needs. In neurological practices, much of the work involves studying slides and records of internal happenings. Likewise, physiologist jobs in sports medicine typically center on sports-related injuries and muscular strength. These professionals apply practical knowledge to educate potential patients about how to avoid injury, as well as evaluating injuries that have already occurred.

The specifics of what a clinical physiologist actually does is largely a function of his or her specialty, as well as his or her work set-up. There are many options when it comes to clinical physiologist careers. Just the same, all are similar when it comes to patient care, doctor interaction, and the hands-on application of scientific knowledge.

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Many clinical physiologists work in the field of kinesiology, or exercise or sport science.

Universities offering these degrees usually require courses in anatomy and physiology, nutrition and psychology. These majors are also good starting points for students who want to teach physical education, health or nutrition.

The salary of an exercise physiologist varies quite a bit based on level of experience and education and where the physiologist works. Salaries range from about $25,000 to $75,000, although most seem to fall in the mid or higher level of that range.

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