Ask A Scientist
What are people that study the human body called?
Asked by: Gina DeGennaro
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Teacher: Kevin Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Playing basketball
Career Interest: Teacher
Answer from Celia Grace Murnock
Graduate Student in Biomedical Anthropology, Binghamton University
Title: Graduate Student in Biomedical Anthropology, Binghamton University
Research area: Lyme disease ecology
Interests/hobbies: Reading, baking and traveling
The human body is so amazingly complex that one person can never hope to understand every single detail. Some people base their entire careers on discovering as much as they can about a single organ or process. Generally, there are two paths someone might choose if he or she wants to study the body.
Physicians continue their education after college by going to medical school. We often think of physicians primarily as people who help keep us healthy rather than as scientists, but they have to know an awful lot about the body in order to successfully do that. A medical school program lasts about four years and is followed by several years of residency, when the newly trained doctor has the opportunity to practice medicine under the guidance of more experienced physicians. Residents choose a specialty, such as cardiology (the study of the heart) or neurology (the study of the brain and nervous system), at this time, though some programs involve some broad training as well. Someone with a strong interest in research can get a PhD, which takes about 4-8 years after college, in a subject like human anatomy, which is the study of the morphology (form) of the body, or physiology, which is the study of how our bodies work and respond to the environment. Just like with residency programs, individuals can specialize in the anatomy and/or physiology of specific parts of the body. For example, exercise physiologists study how our bodies react to exercise and neuroscientists (like neurologists) study the nervous system. Human biologists study the many different ways the human body has adapted to various environments.
Many physicians choose to practice in a clinical setting like an office or hospital, while most scientists with PhDs focus on research that they hope will expand our knowledge of the body and perhaps lead to improved treatments for particular diseases or other health problems. There are, however, exceptions on both sides - some neuroscientists work in clinical settings and some physicians spend most of their time doing research. Some do a mixture of both, and may even opt to go to school for both a medical and a graduate degree.
As you can see, if you are interested and committed you have lots of options for studying the human body. No matter what path you choose, though, it should start with a solid foundation in basic and social sciences.