A physiologist is a person who has received formal training in physiology, which is the study of how plants, animals, and cells function on a biological level. The field is very broad and people can choose to specialize in many different areas. As applied to humans, the field is usually really closely related to medicine. Physiologists aren’t usually medical doctors and they don’t normally provide direct patient care, but they often work alongside doctors and care providers to come up with treatment plans. Their jobs tend to be situated in labs and research institutes, though they will sometimes work with patients in an observatory or “test group” type of scenario. Many of the most common lines of work include exercise physiology, which is the study of how muscles work together, and diagnostic physiology, which typically focuses on known conditions like heart problems and respiratory disorders.
Main Areas of Study
The field can usually be broken down into four main areas of expertise and study. Human biological functioning makes up one of the most well known arenas, but experts can also choose to specialize in plants, non-human animals, and cells. Cellular studies often encompass viruses and bacterial strains, and experts in these areas often work very closely with pharmacology experts and clinicians to create effective medications.
Work Settings and Core Duties
It’s often somewhat difficult to nail down exactly what it is a physiologist does, since so much depends on his or her area of expertise and specific training. In most cases, though, these sorts of professionals are primarily research-driven. This means that they spend a lot of time studying the basic biology and anatomy of their subjects, and looking for ways to improve efficiency, treat illness, or cure common problems. Many of these people work in labs, and they often focus on very narrow issues. In this way they’re often able to become experts in specific things, like plant resistance to certain pesticides or selective animal breeding to accentuate specific traits.
Sports and Exercise Applications
One of the most well known applications for physiology is within the realm of sports and exercise studies. Exercise physiologists study how the muscles work at various ages and under various stresses, and spend a lot of time looking for efficiencies and ways to maximize ability and strength.
Sometimes this leads to the creation of exercise plans, either generally or for people with specific conditions or issues. These professionals are frequently involved in monitoring the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of the routine necessary for physical or cardiac rehabilitation, often in cases when accidents or injuries have caused a person to lose some important aspect of their muscular function. Experts evaluate peoples’ physical abilities and come up with exercises to enhance and maintain their overall health and conditioning. They may or may not work directly with the people they’re helping, but in most cases they will collaborate with other healthcare professionals to identify any risks associated with the particular plans, as well as to provide comprehensive rehabilitation programs when needed.
Someone who works in sports, on the other hand, is usually most concerned with the functioning of the body as it applies to athletes. This person specializes in performance and endurance. In addition to specific knowledge of physiology, this sort of professional must usually also have an extensive knowledge base of the specific sport’s requirements. He or she may work alongside coaches and sports medicine practitioners to design effective exercises both to ward off injuries in the first place, as well as to treat them once they happen.
Help With Human Problems and Diseases
People in this field might also choose to specialize on just one specific condition or part of the body. Cardiac physiologists, for example, investigate the function of the heart to help diagnose heart disease, and are often involved in the early stages of identifying and monitoring the use of treatment programs to measure their effectiveness. Extensive knowledge of the heart and how it works and reacts to stressors such as exercise is really important in this context.
A neurophysiologist is another example. This specialist is concerned with the functioning of the nervous system, and typically works with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, or dementia, and frequently studies strokes as well. Those suffering from nerve or muscle dysfunction can also benefit from a neurophysiologist’s expertise. He or she may study things like electroencephalography (EEG) tests and nerve conduction studies to assess the brain's response and make recommendations about care.
Respiratory specialists deal with the physiology of respiration, or breathing. They may test lung and breathing function, and are often at the heart of things like sleep studies in order to help evaluate and treat breathing problems. These individuals also may monitor breathing during physical rehabilitation.
Training and Experience
Physiologists don’t usually need medical training, but they often have to have a lot of university-level education to get started in the field. An undergraduate degree in biology or another life science is often required, in addition to graduate work that focuses on the student’s particular area of interest. Many universities offer dedicated courses and training programs to enable students to succeed in a rage of different specialty areas.