Physiologists are biological scientists who study the various life functions of plants, animals and man under normal and abnormal conditions. They may specialize in the study of cells, tissues or one of the organs or systems, such as the digestive, nervous or circulatory system.

Physiologists are concerned with the internal “communication” of organs, energy procurement and utilisation, blood circulation, defence systems against infection, repair mechanisms, reproduction and metabolism.  All these mechanisms function to keep the internal environment of the body stable to ensure the survival of the organism.  Everything that influences the normal functioning of the body of a human, animal or plant is also studied by the physiologist, including nutrition, digestion, absorption, metabolism and diseases (pathology).

An important aspect of this work thus entails investigating the effects that factors such as drugs or pollution have on the life processes and bodily functions of plants, animals and man.

Human physiology forms the basis for disciplines such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dietetics, communication pathology and optometry, in addition to technological studies such as medical technology and clinical technology. Some specialise in the physiology of a particular body area, function or system.

Plant or animal physiologists, as the names imply, study the life processes of plants or animals. They conduct research on the cellular structure and functioning of the organs as part of the various systems. They study growth, respiration, circulation, excretion, movement, reproduction and other functions of plants and animals under normal and abnormal conditions.  Experiments are performed to determine the effects of internal and external environmental factors on these life processes and functions, using microscopes, x-ray equipment. spectroscopes and other equipment.

Physiology provides the basis for much of the work done by pathologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists and toxicologists.

Physiologists can work in well- equipped laboratories.  Many physiologists lecture medical students in physiology at university medical schools, teach at secondary level, act as representatives for medical and pharmaceutical firms or be appointed as technical assistants in research or routine laboratories.

Personal Requirements

  • aptitude and interest in biology, chemistry and mathematics
  • systematic, probing mind
  • good health
  • accurate and methodical
  • manual dexterity
  • patient and have perseverance
  • able to think logically and concentrate well
  • able to work in a team
  • skill in the use of laboratory equipment

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BSc Physiology - UJ, NWU, US, UKZN, UP, Wits and most other universities

Post-graduate study: BSc Honours, MSc and PhD are necessary for top positions in research, administration or university lecturing.

For clinical medical practice, registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to accredited qualifications and registration requirements.




  • Chamber of Mines’ Human Science Laboratory
  • Central Medical Laboratory of the Defence Force
  • Medical Research Council
  • CSIR
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Veterinary Research Institute, Onderstepoort
  • agricultural research institutes
  • medical schools
  • hospitals
  • pathology laboratories
  • universities
  • Mittal Steel (Industrial Hygiene)
  • self-employment, as an industrial physiologist

Further Information

Any of the above potential employers

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a laboratory
  • arrange to speak to physiologists about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions

Study Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University

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