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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?

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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.

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 at Otago

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.

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

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.


Physiology as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, 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 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


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 (or PTWY 131)*, HUBS 192, and two of BIOC 192, CELS 191, CHEM 191, PHSI 191



* PTWY 131 is only available to students enrolled in the Diploma in Science.

Total 90

PHSL papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
PHSL101 2024 Physiology for Sport and Exercise 18 Semester 2
PHSL231 2024 Neurophysiology 18 Semester 1
PHSL232 2024 Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology 18 Semester 2
PHSL233 2024 Cellular, Gastrointestinal and Renal Physiology 18 Semester 2
PHSL251 2024 Exploring Human Physiology 21 Semester 1
PHSL341 2024 Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (I) 18 Semester 1
PHSL342 2024 Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurophysiology (II) 18 Semester 1
PHSL343 2024 Cellular and Epithelial Physiology 18 Semester 2
PHSL344 2024 Cardiovascular Physiology 18 Semester 2
PHSL345 2024 Physiological Aspects of Health and Disease 18 Semester 1
PHSL471 2024 Systematic Physiology 20 Full Year
PHSL472 2024 Neurophysiology 20 Full Year
PHSL473 2024 Cellular Physiology 20 Not offered in 2024
PHSL474 2024 Research Topics 20 Full Year
PHSL480 2024 Research Project 40 Full Year
PHSL490 2024 Dissertation 60 Full Year
PHSL495 2024 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 Full Year

More information

Contact us

Department of Physiology
School of Biomedical Sciences

Studying at Otago

This information must be read subject to the statement on our Copyright & Disclaimer page.

Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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