Physiology is one of the oldest disciplines within the life sciences and even has its own category within the Nobel prizes, together with medicine. This already indicates that physiology is at the heart of medicine; understanding and curing the body. Without a proper understanding of how the mammalian body works it is impossible to understand why and how it can go wrong (pathophysiology).

Physiologists primarily study organoids, organs, organ systems and complete organisms. Physiology is also an integrating discipline because it draws heavily on, and also connects, knowledge from many other disciplines like Physics, Biochemistry, Molecular Science and even Ecology. As such Physiology is an overarching discipline nicely fitting the Liberal Arts and Science education system.

Life itself is physiology. So, if you would like to understand the reactions of your own body to different challenges you should study physiology. It makes you see how ingeniously the body is designed to complete multiple tasks simultaneously, to ensure homeostasis. The apostle Paul already knew that our bodies are the temple of the Holy spirit.

Physiology is a life science just as much as it is a beta science. In the Physiology courses we will use knowledge from other disciplines more than once: from Physics and Biochemistry when we study exercise and locomotion, or math when we study frequency decomposition by the inner ear.

Science needs physiologists. Many scientists who focus on details of the human body are unable to see the bigger picture. Molecular scientists may need physiologists to understand the implications of their findings, just like behavioral scientists need them to understand how a certain type of behavior comes about. 

At University College Utrecht you will learn more and more about the function of organs, how they communicate and how organisms regulate their internal environment, i.e. how homeostasis is the condition for a free and independent life. The Physiology track, as part of the Biology track, only comprises 3 courses: Human and animal biology (UCSCIBIO13), Human and animal physiology (UCSCIBIO23) and Advanced physiology (UCSCIBIO33). In the course of the 3-year study we will slowly make a move from textbooks to primary literature, from teacher-centered activities to student-centered activities, from schedules to computer simulations and from theory to practice. One thing that remains the same is that it will be challenging and we will dare you to display a critical attitude.

The Physiology track connects logically to the Molecular Cell Biology track (UCSCIBIO11 / UCSCIBIO21 / UCSCIBIO31). Together they are called the Biology track, which is part of the larger (Pre-)medical science track. The kinetics and dynamics of pharmacological compounds can be learned in Pharmacology (UCSCIMED32), but physiology makes you understand were homeostasis has failed and how one might intervene. A similar bond exists between physiology and Mechanisms of disease (UCSCIMED21).


There are also connections to Biochemistry (UCSCICHE23) and especially Cognitive Neuroscience I and II (UCSCICOG11 and 21). For example, (sensory) perception is studied by both cognitive neuroscientists and physiologists. The latter focus more on cellular neurophysiology and show how smart combinations of low (cellular) level properties will give rise to higher (cognitive) level functions (emergent properties). Motor function is dealt with exclusively in the physiology track.

The Physiology track per se is organized in a linear fashion; after completing BIO13 successfully you are allowed to enter BIO23. In turn, BIO23 is a prerequisite for BIO33. BIO13 and 23 are instructed in both semesters, but BIO33 is only instructed in the Fall semester.

BIO13, together with Molecular cell biology (UCSCIBIO11), are prerequisites for Mechanisms of disease (UCSCIMED21)
BIO23, together with Biochemistry (UCSCICHE23), are prerequisites for Pharmacology (UCSCIMED32)

There are lab courses available for the molecular part of the BIO track, but not yet for the physiology part of the BIO track. However, the human anatomy and pathology lab course (MEDL2) complements the Physiology track nicely.

Physiology in combination with adjacent or other tracks has a wide scope. This gives many different options for Master’s programmes. Below are just a few suggestions.

At Utrecht University:

At Wageningen University & Research (WUR):

UCSCIBIO13 Human and animal biology
This course focuses on the many intriguing aspects of human biology. Examples from the animal kingdom are used to put human physiology, development and evolution in a broader context. 

UCSCIBIO23 Human and animal physiology
In this course the function of the different organ systems in the mammalian body is discussed in depth. Special emphasis is placed on neural and hormonal regulation of organ systems, without which homeostasis will break down.  

UCSCIBIO33 Advanced physiology
During this course we will focus on a selective set of organ systems (senses, nerves, skeletal muscles, the heart, kidneys and lungs) and venture into the pathophysiology of some of these organs.


Dr. Maarten van Emst is the Physiology fellow at University College Utrecht.