Physiology, physiotherapy, and pathology

Understand exactly how the body works, and what to do when it doesn’t.

What is physiology, physiotherapy, and pathology

The human body is complex, and everyone is different.

And as the list of diseases, illnesses, and ailments grows by the year – not to mention how they evolve and adapt to treatment – we need to stay one step ahead. Keeping us healthy in the face of these challenges requires highly skilled scientists: experts in physiology, physiotherapy, and pathology.

These subjects are all biomedical sciences and closely related, but the individual disciplines are actually very different:
Physiotherapy degrees are designed to train you to treat patients suffering with muscular, skeletal, neurologic, or cardiovascular problems. You’ll be helping people recover physically from operations or injuries.
Physiology degrees explore the physical structure of organisms (normally humans) and how the body works. Physiology often provides the research that allows physiotherapists to treat patients.
Pathology degrees are focused on the molecular study of organisms, to detect disease in cells and tissues.

Physiology, physiotherapy, and pathology course entry requirements

Biology is the most important subject for all these degrees.

Chemistry is also a requirement if you’re applying for a pathology or physiology degree, while physics and mathematics would also bolster your application. When it comes to soft skills, universities will be looking for a high level of technical and analytical skill, along with attention to detail.

For physiotherapy applications, subjects like psychology would also be beneficial, as you’ll have a more patient-facing role. As well as technical aptitude, you should also demonstrate your patient care skills, communication, empathy, compassion, and bedside manner. 

What you will need to do
  • Apply by the January deadline
  • Attend an interview
  • Submit a personal statement
  • Show work experience
What you won’t need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Take an entry test

Can I study physiotherapy even if I don’t want to work in sport?

Most people associate physiotherapy with sport, thanks to the high profile of famous physiotherapists in football and rugby. But there are far more physiotherapists who work with non-athletes in hospitals, helping them recover from diseases, illnesses, and injuries. Broadly, physiotherapy has nothing to do with sport.

Why study physiology, physiotherapy, and pathology at university?

If you enjoy a technical challenge, and want to help fight disease and maintain health, physiology and pathology will offer you the chance to do that on a daily basis. They will require you to challenge existing research, and carry out your own, to make sure we stay ahead of diseases, illnesses, and injuries.

If you love the social aspect of patient care, and want to use your skills to make people’s lives better, physiotherapy will give you immense job satisfaction. Whether it’s helping people get back on their feet after operations or poor health, or helping athletes to improve their performance and reduce pain, your talent can make a huge difference to the daily life of people around you. Physiotherapy is much more than giving massages and cracking backs.

Employment prospects for all of these degrees are outstanding, with nine out of ten graduates in employment or further study after six months. You’re likely to enter into a job that pays around £22k when you first start, but this can grow hugely as you gain experience. The real salary growth comes when you specialise in individual areas – like a physiotherapist who becomes an expert in spinal injuries, a pathologist who dedicates their research to cancer, or a physiologist who develops a new treatment for muscle strains.

Some modules you may study are:

  • Cardiorespiratory physiotherapy
  • Muskuloskeletal rehabilitation
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Chemistry for life sciences
  • Epithelial physiology
  • Forensic pathology
  • Genealogical conditions
  • Neurobiology

What’s the difference between physiology and anatomy?

They’re very closely related, but anatomy deals with the structural aspects of the body. Physiology looks at its functional and regulatory characteristcs (more about how it moves and interacts).

What can you do with a physiology, physiotherapy, or pathology degree?

The majority of graduates will enter careers within their individual discipline, as these are highly specialised degrees:

Many will go on to specialise or progress, and some will immediately enter related jobs, including:

What’s it like to study physiology, physiotherapy, or pathology?

All three subjects will require a high level of technical and analytical skills, but this is particularly true for physiology and pathology. You’ll spend a lot of time in the lab for these courses, carrying out research and practical experiments. Your first year will offer grounding in the science, and from the second year you’ll be able to choose your particular specialisms and branches of physiology and pathology – for example, focusing on cancer drugs, or on fractures and breakages.

Physiotherapy will also involve a mix of theory and practice, but instead of the laboratory, you’ll spend time in real or simulated rehabilitation environments. There’ll be a lot of real-life scenarios, with real patients, once you’ve mastered treating a mannequin. You may have the opportunity to go on placement, in the NHS or private healthcare, or with sports clubs or the community.

During your degree, you can expect the following:

  • writing reports and essays
  • laboratory experimentation
  • rehabilitation practice
  • research and analysis projects
  • lectures and seminars
  • practical demonstrations
  • placement projects within industry

You’ll spend most of your weekday hours on your studies, whether that’s in the classroom, the lab, or on placement. You can expect around 20 hours of each, when studying physiology, physiotherapy, or pathology.

Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course in two years rather than three. 


If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

There are over 60 apprenticeships in the health and science sector available in England, with more in development.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Degree apprenticeship (Level 6)

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