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Study Physiology at Otago

Physiology is the study of how our bodies work at the molecular, cellular, and organ systems levels.

Understanding human physiology is therefore a key part of knowing ourselves. And of course, knowing what’s normal is crucial to understanding the abnormalities that lead to disease, and enabling development of effective treatments.

The importance of Physiology is recognised by the fact there is a specific Nobel Prize category for Physiology and Medicine. Although much has been learned, mysteries still remain – will you be involved in solving them?

Apply for the Bachelor of Science (BSc) (2023 applications) through the Dunedin campus in 2023

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Apply for the Bachelor of Science (BSc) (2024 applications) through the Dunedin campus in 2024

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Why study Physiology?

A university-level understanding of how the body works is an excellent preparation for a wide range of career options. Some Physiology graduates go on to higher degrees in Physiology because they wish to become full-time researchers and academics, designing their own research and leading research teams. Other graduates use their Physiology degrees to gain access to a wide range of jobs where employers are looking for specific knowledge of human biology, including as laboratory research technicians, advisors to TV and movie productions, in medical technology companies, aviation and space medicine research, hospital sleep laboratories, and marketing pharmaceuticals – to name just a few.

Furthermore, a Bachelor of Science (BSc) can provide entry into any career where employers are looking for tertiary-level education. We also find it can be a platform for entrepreneurs who go on to set up their own businesses – from setting up vineyards and wine making, to running sporting goods shops.

A degree in Physiology is also a perfect platform for entry to further study towards qualifications in health-related professions that lead to specific careers, such as audiology, dentistry, medical technology, medicine, pharmacy, and physiotherapy.

If you find human biology interesting and want to know more about how the human body works – or why it sometimes fails to work properly – then Physiology is for you.

Background required

There are no specific secondary school subject requirements. However Year 13 Biology, Chemistry, and Physics are strongly recommended because they underpin Physiology principles. Calculus and Statistics are also useful.

If you have not done Chemistry to Year 13, we strongly advise you consider first taking a bridging course such as the Summer School paper CHEM 150 Concepts in Chemistry.

Structure of the degree

Bachelor of Science (BSc)

Physiology is offered as a major for the three-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree.

In first year, you will study human body systems and a mix of biochemistry, biology, and/or biological physics papers.

In second year you cover the brain and nervous system; the heart, blood circulation, lungs and breathing; and the movement of substances in and out of our bodies and cells through the digestive system and kidneys.

These build on the background provided in first year to provide a high level of knowledge across all body systems.

During third year you can choose from five papers that focus at an advanced level on the above topics. These will take you to the edge of current knowledge and the latest research related to both understanding the healthy body, and the changes that occur in disease.

Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (BBiomedSc)

Instead of enrolling in a BSc majoring in Physiology, you could choose to undertake a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (BBiomedSc) majoring in Functional Human Biology, which includes many of the above papers.

Teaching style

Physiology papers are taught via lectures, labs, group tutorials, computer-assisted and self- directed study, and regular assessments.

The labs are very hands-on. They are organised into small groups, each with a personal tutor, offering a high level of support if needed.

Career opportunities

Studying Physiology gives you the opportunity to develop the skills and life- long learning strategies crucial for careers that require tertiary science qualifications.

Physiologists work in a variety of environments including:

  • Allied health professions such as optometry and audiology
  • Aviation and space industries
  • Education and research institutes
  • Government agencies
  • Hospital labs and rehabilitation centres
  • Military
  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies
  • Sports institutes and academies

Got a thirst for more? Further study could take you into a Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci), a Bachelor of Science with Honours (BSc(Hons)), a research-based master’s degree, or a PhD.

Physiology research at Otago

Our staff undertake internationally-recognised Physiology research.

This research is focused on three thematic areas:

  • Membrane and Ion Transport
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology

The types of medical and scientific problems that this research addresses include:

  • Ageing and loss of muscle mass and strength
  • Diabetes and obesity
  • Fertility and neural control of hormones
  • Heart and lung function and dysfunction, including atherosclerosis, diabetes, cardiac stem cells, arrhythmias, and hypertension
  • Intestinal physiology and probiotics
  • Ion channel physiology
  • Kidney and blood vessel function
  • Movement disorders such as ataxia, motor neurone disease, and Parkinson’s disease
  • Neurological disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, and epilepsy
  • Neurophysiology of smell
  • Stress and the brain


Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages:

Programme requirements

Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Physiology

Level Papers Points

HUBS 191  Human Body Systems 1

HUBS 192  Human Body Systems 2

At least two of:
BIOC 192  Foundations of Biochemistry
CELS 191  Cell and Molecular Biology
CHEM 191  The Chemical Basis of Biology and Human Health
PHSI 191  Biological Physics





PHSL 231  Neurophysiology

PHSL 232  Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology

PHSL 233  Cellular, Gastrointestinal and Renal Physiology





Four of:
PHSL 341  Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (I)
PHSL 342  Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (II)
PHSL 343  Cellular and Epithelial Physiology
PHSL 344  Cardiovascular Physiology
PHSL 345  Physiological Aspects of Health and Disease



162 further points; must include 54 points at 200-level or above.

Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Science

Total   360

Bachelor of Science with Honours (BSc(Hons)) in Physiology


Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) in Physiology

  • PHSL 480 Research Project (40 points) or PHSL 490 Dissertation (60 points), and
  • PHSL 474 Research Topics (20 points)
  • and papers from
  • PHSL 471 Systematic Physiology (20 points)
  • PHSL 472 Neurophysiology (20 points)
  • PHSL 473 Cellular Physiology (20 points)
  • to a total of 120 points.

Master of Science (MSc) in Physiology

Papers and Thesis
  • PHSL 495  Master's Thesis Preparation

  • PHSL 471  Systematic Physiology

  • PHSL 472  Neurophysiology

  • PHSL 473  Cellular Physiology

  • PHSL 474  Research Topics

  • Thesis: PHSL 5

    Note: The papers are normally taken before undertaking the thesis.

Minor subject requirements

Physiology as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BEntr, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (BEntr), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

Level Papers Points

See Below



PHSL 231  Neurophysiology

PHSL 232  Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology

PHSL 233  Cellular, Gastrointestinal and Renal Physiology





Two of:
PHSL 341  Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology,
PHSL 342  Integrative Neurophysiology,
PHSL 343  Cellular and Epithelial Physiology,
PHSL 344  Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology,
PHSL 345  Physiological Aspects of Health and Disease.

Prerequisites for PHSL 231, PHSL 232, PHSL 233 include HUBS 191, HUBS 192, and two of BIOC 192, CELS 191, CHEM 191, PHSI 191


Total   90


Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
PHSL101 2023 Physiology for Sport and Exercise 18 points Semester 2
PHSL231 2023 Neurophysiology 18 points Semester 1
PHSL232 2023 Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology 18 points Semester 2
PHSL233 2023 Cellular, Gastrointestinal and Renal Physiology 18 points Semester 2
PHSL251 2023 Exploring Human Physiology 21 points Semester 1
PHSL341 2023 Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (I) 18 points Semester 1
PHSL342 2023 Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (II) 18 points Semester 1
PHSL343 2023 Cellular and Epithelial Physiology 18 points Semester 2
PHSL344 2023 Cardiovascular Physiology 18 points Semester 2
PHSL345 2023 Physiological Aspects of Health and Disease 18 points Semester 1
PHSL471 2023 Systematic Physiology 20 points Full Year
PHSL472 2023 Neurophysiology 20 points Full Year
PHSL473 2023 Cellular Physiology 20 points Full Year
PHSL474 2023 Research Topics 20 points Full Year
PHSL480 2023 Research Project 40 points Full Year
PHSL490 2023 Dissertation 60 points Full Year
PHSL495 2023 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 points Full Year

Key information for future students

Contact us

Department of Physiology
School of Biomedical Sciences