On The Defense of Physiology and Fundamental Science Coursework.


Oil painting depicting Claude Bernard, the father of modern physiology. (Image Courtesy of Iconographic Collections Keywords: Léon-Augustin Lhermitte; Vivisection; Physiology)

To my student followers struggling with fundamental science coursework: Remember that you are entering a healthcare profession and potentially earning a doctoral degree. A thorough understanding of the fundamental sciences, especially physiology, is necessary for anyone awarded a doctoral degree in the health sciences. This is true for the doctor of medicine degree and it is true for the doctor of physical therapy degree. The performance of our various biological systems dictates physical function and movement. Additionally, a thorough understanding of these systems will allow you to understand the basis for the symptoms and functional limitations present in many of the patient populations physical therapists work within the clinic. Lastly, understanding physiological systems allow physical therapists to prescribe exercise and other interventions appropriately for a patient. So while some of the information learned may seem irrelevant and overly detailed, there is a good reason for it. You may be surprised how many things we do as therapists traces back to a thorough understanding of physiology and other fundamental sciences.

     Physiology specifically is also probably the area where most physical therapy students and practicing physical therapists struggle. (I’ve taught both for a few years now.) It’s harder to study/practice and appreciate physiology because you can’t actually “see” many of the things you’re studying, unlike in other areas of the curriculum. But when you start practicing and treating patients with conditions, you’re going to really appreciate the amount of time you spent studying physiology. This is especially true if you work in settings outside of outpatient orthopedics, although physiological principles are very relevant there as well.
     As an aside, I’ll also add that a thorough knowledge of physiology will also help with discerning whether and which, continuing education and post-professional training are worth pursuing. There are many approaches to care within our profession which make claims that violate basic concepts of physiology and other accepted sciences. These courses and narratives have perpetuated and promulgated likely in large part due to a lack of understanding (or forgetting) of central tenets from human physiology.

     Long story short remembering physiology helps improve your bogus detector. This is important both for you as a clinician and for your patient, who will also be exposed to many of these bogus narratives. So embrace this challenge, like all others in life. You’re going to do fine. No student is ever accepted into any clinical program if the faculty didn’t think they would be successful. And you’re going to be better for having gone through it, like all others challenges in life!


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