Careers in Anatomy and Physiology: Job Options and Requirements

Sep 25, 2019

An academic background in anatomy and physiology can prepare one for several career options. These include medical careers, such as nursing, as well as related fields, such as massage therapy and athletic training. An associate's degree is the minimum education for these careers, though further education and certification may be required.

Essential Information

An anatomy and physiology curriculum can include the study of basic sciences, biology, chemistry, kinesiology and nutrition. Students who study anatomy and physiology for an associate's degree or bachelor's degree have a wide range of career options upon graduation. Most jobs have certification options that could advance employment.

Career Titles Registered Nurse Massage Therapist Athletic Trainer
Required Education Associate's degree Postsecondary non-degree award Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements State license State license State certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 12% 22% 19%
Average Salary (2018)* $75,510 $45,880 $49,280

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

During the course of their education and training, registered nurses, massage therapists and athletic trainers all study anatomy and physiology at varying levels. Educational requirements for registered nurses and massage therapists in particular may vary based on the specialty in which they practice. Jobs for anatomy and physiology graduates as a whole are expected to increase in the coming decade.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses, also known as RNs, supervise, document and report changes in a patient's condition. These professionals perform regular checks of a patient's vital signs, order and evaluate diagnostic tests, consult with doctors and other health professionals on a patient's condition, inform patients and their families on proper management of their conditions and administer medications.

RNs may specialize in a field, health condition or work setting. For example, critical care nurses work with patients who have life-threatening or complicated conditions, while holistic nurses perform alternative health practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and biofeedback. Long-term care nurses work with patients who have chronic conditions and require continuing care.

Outside of medical facilities, registered nurses work for schools, correctional facilities and military bases. Some travel around the country and world to provide healthcare to patients in areas that lack healthcare workers.

Educational requirements for registered nurses depend on the type of work they do. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that nurses performing more advanced practices, such as clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, need a master's degree ( Entry-level staff nurses may hold a nursing diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree; however, those who have a diploma or associate's degree may have limited advancement options, according to the BLS.

All nursing education includes classroom coursework related to anatomy and physiology, family planning, basic sciences, nutrition, psychiatric care and ethics. Students also complete clinical experiences in health facilities, allowing them to work with doctors, nurses and patients. After receiving a degree, nurses all over the U.S. must pass a licensing examination to obtain a nursing license before they can begin practicing. The exam is given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to ensure the capabilities of all nurses (

Registered nurses can become certified in a specialty area, such as cardiac rehabilitation, ambulatory care, diabetes management, informatics, pediatrics, public health and perinatal nursing. Certification is usually voluntary and available through several different organizations including the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (

Registered nurses could see employment opportunities increase by 12 percent from 2018 until 2028, the BLS predicted. The average annual salary was $75,510 for registered nurses as of May 2018.

Massage Therapist

Massage therapists use their hands to apply pressure and manipulate the muscles all over the body to provide therapeutic relief. They use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology to release stress, loosen tense muscles, soothe injuries, assist in healing medical conditions and provide overall wellness.

There are more than 80 types of massage and most massage therapists specialize in several different forms, according to the BLS. The types used for each client is specialized to his or her needs, desires and medical conditions. A brief synopsis of the client's medical history and conditions is often necessary so the massage therapist can determine the best form of massage for the client.

The BLS stated that, as of 2018, 45 U.S. states and Washington D.C. implemented state regulations on massage therapy. Most mandate that massage therapists must receive formal training and pass some type of exam. The BLS also reported that due to the fluctuating nature of laws, massage therapists may consider checking with their state's licensing and certification regulations.

Massage therapists can receive training from post-secondary institutions where a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient for admission. Coursework generally includes anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, massage theory, body mechanics, legal responsibilities and basic health training. Training may be 500 hours or more, stated the BLS.

Massage therapists find employment in spas, cruise ships, chiropractic offices, doctors' offices, sports clubs and also through self-employment. Excellent communication skills, trustworthiness and the ability to put a client at ease are good qualities for massage therapists to have.

The mean salary was $45,880 for massage therapists as of May 2018, and they were expected to see employment increase by 22 percent from 2018 until 2028, according to the BLS.

Athletic Trainer

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), athletic trainers aid in the prevention, analysis and emergency attention of medical conditions ( They are guided by physicians to ensure optimal physical activity of patients and clients. They are normally present during physical activity events and may be the first healthcare professionals on the scene after an athletic injury occurs. Athletic trainers assess the injury's seriousness and, if necessary, determine what treatment is needed as set by the guiding physician's advice.

Athletic trainers also help people avoid injuries by teaching them preventative stretches, exercises to improve strength and proper use of equipment. Athletic trainers provide their services in schools, athletic organizations, physicians' offices, medical clinics, private sports medicine, rehabilitation centers, industrial occupational facilities, military bases, and performing arts centers.

The BLS reports that a bachelor's degree is normally the minimum requirement for athletic trainers, and that many also have master or doctoral degrees. The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits athletic training degree programs ( Coursework includes human anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, rehabilitation, kinesiology/biomechanics, risk management and injury prevention, nutritional aspects of injuries and illnesses, therapeutic modalities and physics.

The Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC) provides the Athletic Trainer Certification Exam to graduates of a CAATE accredited degree program ( Per the BLS, as of 2018, nearly all states in the U.S. required athletic trainers to be licensed or registered, which may be completed by earning certification from the BOC. Athletic trainers maintain their certifications by completing continuing education classes in the medical field and adhering to the BOC's standards of practice and codes of responsibility.

The BLS predicted that athletic trainers would see an increase in employment from 2018 until 2028, and the growth rate could be as high as 19 percent. Their average salary was $49,280.

These careers benefit from a background in anatomy and physiology. Educational and certification requirements may vary, but some college education in biological sciences, especially human anatomy and physiology, is a requirement for all the jobs listed above.

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