Physiologist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a physiologist. Learn about required education, job duties and salary potential to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physiologist?

A physiologist is a science professional who studies the chemical and biological processes of living organisms that include plants, animals, and humans. They are trained to understand how the normal functions of living organisms operate and examine any abnormalities that may occur in the process. Physiologists can be employed in a variety of areas. You can find them working in pharmacology, pathology or nursing facilities. The research conducted by a physiologist helps science better understand the complex make-up of organ systems, cells, and tissues in living systems.

The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Plant Physiologist Exercise Physiologist Microbiologist
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Botany, plant physiology chemistry Physiology, biology, anatomy Biochemistry, cell biology, microbial physiology, microbiology
Key Responsibilities Research crops to improve yields, develop ways to manage weeds and pests, make recommendations to food developers Develop exercise programs for patients, review patients' medical history, monitor clinical studies Study microorganisms found in humans, plants and animals; write research reports; oversee technicians
Licensure/Certification Some states require licensure for soil scientists; certification is optional Some states require licensure Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% (for all soil and plant scientists)* 11%* 4%*
Median Salary (2015) $60,050* (for all soil and plant scientists)* $47,010* $67,550*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Physiologist?

As a physiologist, your tasks would be determined by the particular field you work in, the types of subjects you study and whether you specialize in a specific life function. As a plant physiologist, you'll study functional aspects of plant life, such as growth, development and photosynthesis. If you'd like to study human functionality, you could explore reproduction, movement and circulation as well as the effects diseased cells have on these functions. Your research findings might be used for a variety of purposes, including pharmaceutical development, disease identification and agricultural treatments. In addition to conducting research, you could also serve in other capacities, such as an educator, consultant or healthcare professional.

What Is the Job Outlook?

You can find employment in a wide range of environments that conduct and/or use physiological studies, such as government agencies, universities, military facilities and biochemical companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the job opportunities for life, physical and social science occupations was expected to increase 7% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). One of the theories behind the anticipated growth includes the increased use of biotechnology in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The BLS stated that biological scientists earned a median salary of $75,150 in 2015.

What Education Do I Need?

While some job opportunities require a graduate degree, you can qualify for many entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs relevant to the field include physiology, biology, botany, microbiology, zoology and other related life science disciplines. Curricula for physiology majors include classroom instruction and laboratory studies in human, plant and animal physiology; cell biology; genetics and biochemistry. Advanced training is available through master's and doctoral degree programs in physiology and related concentrations, which could prepare you to conduct independent research projects, teach at the postsecondary level or advance into a management role.

Will I Need a License or Certification?

In a research position, you generally won't need to obtain a license. However, if you work in a healthcare-related job, such as a doctor or nurse, you'll need to meet specific eligibility requirements of your state for licensure. Some states also regulate clinical exercise physiologists, who offer physical rehabilitative services through exercise. If you're interested in this field, some employers prefer or require certification, regardless of whether licensure is mandated. You can earn certification through professional trade organizations, such as the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers that are closely associated with physiologists are agricultural and food scientists. Agricultural and food scientists can work in many different areas ranging from scientific research to development. They can be involved in field work, which may include studying the growth of farm animals or collecting scientific data in a research laboratory. They are often involved in the creation of new food products and seek new ways to process or deliver these new food discoveries. Not only do they need superb research skills, but they also must have excellent communication skills to reveal their findings to the scientific community and the general public.

You could also stay in this field by becoming an agricultural and food science technician. These professionals work alongside agricultural and food scientists. They need to possess analytical skills to measure and analyze the integrity of food and agricultural products. Agricultural and food science technicians work in a variety of environments, which can include farms and ranches, scientific laboratories, greenhouses, and processing plants.

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