What Is Anatomy and Physiology?

Do you know the difference between the study of anatomy and that of physiology? Read on to learn more about these closely related sciences, both of which examine various aspects of living organisms' biological systems. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Field Overview

Anatomy and physiology, although similar in some ways, offer two distinct approaches to studying a living organism. While studying anatomy, you focus on the structure of living organisms by looking at the components of an organism's biological systems as well as the structure of the organs and tissues that make up their biological systems. On the other hand, your studies in physiology center on the function of cells, organs, and tissues, and how they work together in the body. These topics can be studied simultaneously in one course, but each science has specializations at different levels.

Important Facts About Anatomy and Physiology

Similar Occupations Agricultural and food scientists, epidemiologists, health educators (for medical scientist)
Common Courses Physiology and cell biology; cardiac physiology; human physiology; (for physiology)
Common Courses Human anatomy; anatomy through dissection; musculoskeletal anatomy; human anatomy for dentists (for anatomy)
Median Salary (2014) $79,930 per year (medical scientist)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Anatomy is a natural science dealing with the structural organization of all living things. You will often encounter a course in gross anatomy as part of a medical school program. During such a course, you are required to attend lectures as well as participate in dissection laboratory sessions, which provide you with hands-on exposure to various biological systems and organs. Specific topics you might be introduced to include the structure of the musculoskeletal, nervous, circulatory, immune, respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. You might also look at anatomy on a microscopic level, examining the structure of organs and tissues via their cells.


Much like anatomy, physiology is concerned with the principal organ systems, such as the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. However, when studying physiology, you will be looking at the functions of cells and organs within their biological systems, rather than their structures. You could study physiology on a broad level, such as the physiology of mammals, during which you would study the manner in which organs function in the body of a mammal as a whole. You might also study with a narrower focus, such as the physiology of the cardiovascular system. For example, during this course, you might take a look at how the heart performs its particular function.

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