Difference Between Anatomy and Physiology

Difference Between Anatomy and Physiology
Difference Between Anatomy and Physiology Overview (From Technical & Academic View)

Do you tend to be fascinated by looking at the structures and forms of living things? Or perhaps, are you interested about how their body works? Generally, the knowledge of how various processes occur in living organisms, and the study of the structures that carry them out is not only interesting in its own, but also serves as a fundamental ground for other scientific and health related careers.

Such topics are generally covered in the two fields of biology: anatomy and physiology.

The field of anatomy and physiology, which can be traced from their Greek origins, have accumulated vast knowledge and underwent a variety of changes over time. Consequently each have developed to become a specialized discipline on its own.

Here is the difference between anatomy and physiology from technical as well as career/course perspectives.

What is Anatomy?

Coming from the Greek words “ana” which means “up“, and “tome” which means a “cutting” or “laceration“, anatomy is the branch of biology that deals with the identification and description of the bodily structures of living organisms.

Interestingly, the words “dissection” and “anatomy” mean the same thing in both Greek and Latin. While they have originated mainly from the process of cutting and observing one’s body parts, anatomy has evolved to become a separate discipline, whereas dissection merely became a technique performed while studying anatomy.

What are the sub-types of Anatomy?

Apparently the science of anatomy can be divided into two branches: (1) Gross Anatomy and (2) Microscopic Anatomy.

  • Gross Anatomy

    Gross Anatomy

    By definition gross anatomy is the study of biological structures at the macroscopic level (can be seen and observed by the naked eye).

    Also called as macro-anatomy or topographical anatomy, gross anatomy is studied with the objective of obtaining information about the organism’s body parts (i.e. organs and organ systems).

    In studying gross anatomy, invasive (body is invaded or cut open) and non-invasive (body is not invaded or cut open) techniques can be performed.

    Another common technique used in studying gross anatomy is the dissection of the organism.

  • Microscopic Anatomy

    Microscopic Anatomy

    Microscopic anatomy[1] is the study of the structures of organisms that are too minute to be seen by the naked eye.

    Such biological structures can only be observed by staining thin sections of tissues and examining them under the microscope (light or electron microscope).

    Because of specific dyes that add or enhance the color of the specimen, cells and tissues become easily distinguishable and differentiable.

What is Physiology?

The word physiology comes from the Greek words “physis” which means “origin” or “nature of” and “logos” which means “study of“. Physiology is a branch of biology that deals with the bodily processes and mechanisms of living organisms. Basically physiology has a very wide scope as it studies the molecular basis of cells up to the integration of all the physiological functions of the body.

What are the sub-types of Physiology?

  • Primatology (Apes)

    Animal Physiology

    This sub-type of physiology[2] deals with how animals work, and how the physical and biochemical functions and processes occur within them. These processes include blood circulation, digestion, respiration, and many more.

  • Plant Physiology

    Plant Physiology

    As its name suggests, plant physiology deals with the various fundamental and developmental processes that plants perform. Examples of such processes are photosynthesis, respiration, germination, dormancy, and others. Also check out the cellular respiration equation.

  • Microscopic Physiology

    Microscopic Physiology

    Microscopic physiology is a sub-type of physiology that deals with the physiological systems of organisms that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Such organisms include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

  • Physiology

    Developmental Physiology

    By definition developmental physiology tracks how physiological functions occur across an organism’s life span. Aside from that it also studies both the hereditary and environmental factors that affect an organism’s environment.

  • Evolution

    Comparative Physiology

    Comparative physiology is used to compare and differentiate the physiology of various organisms. Along with developmental physiology, the findings in comparative physiology are used as proof for evolution and taxonomic relationships.

  • Audiologist

    Practical Physiology

    This sub-type of physiology studies various ways to make the study of physiology become practical. As such, this field is incorporated into nursing and medical courses that produce different types of doctors & specialists.

Difference Between Anatomy and Physiology Course/Career Wise

Before anything else it is important to know that a Bachelor’s degree in both anatomy and physiology is very uncommon. Usually anatomy and physiology subjects are covered at the undergraduate level. A degree in biology or other related fields like nursing, and medical technology, offer these fields under their degree program.

However, if one wishes to enhance his/her specialization in the field, he may opt to pursue a master’s or a doctorate degree after finishing an undergraduate degree. The table below sums up everything you need to know about the course-wise aspects of both fields.

Details Anatomy Physiology
Field of Study Study the structure of living organisms. Study the bodily functions and processes that occur in living organisms.
Subjects Covered Microscopy, Cell Biology, Histology, General Biology. Gross Anatomy, Histology, Biochemistry, Physics.
Prerequisites and Other Requirements Master’s Degree Bachelor’s degree in a related science field; Thesis.
Doctorate Degree Master’s degree in a related field; Dissertation.
Master’s Degree Bachelor’s degree in a related science field; Thesis.
Doctorate Degree Master’s degree in a related field; Dissertation.
Time to Complete Master’s Degree two years (if full-time).

Doctorate Degree about five years (if full-time).

Master’s Degree two years (if full-time)

Doctorate Degree about five years (if full-time)

Career Options
  • Anatomist
  • Researcher
  • Teacher/Instructor
  • Nursing
  • Career in forensics
  • May pursue medicine
  • Other career in healthcare and sciences*
  • Physiologist
  • Researcher
  • Teacher/Instructor
  • A career in physical therapy
  • A profession in the pharmaceutical industry
  • May pursue medicine
  • Other career in healthcare and sciences*
How Much Do Graduates Earn? $65,110 per year** $52,310 to $83,510 per year***

* SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
** Average income of anatomists in the year 2016
*** Average income of physiologists in the year 2016

Amidst the said differences, anatomy and physiology are dependent upon one another. While each has its own areas of focus, both anatomy and physiology make a good pair of related branch of knowledge. For instance, their scopes both involve the body. Therefore, anatomy must be a pre-requisite before studying physiology.

Overall both anatomy and physiology which study the structures and bodily processes of living organisms (respectively), are remarkably interesting disciplines that will help one to understand life better. Now upon knowing each side of the coin, should you go for a career in anatomy? Or just indulge yourself in physiology?

Cite this article as: "Difference Between Anatomy and Physiology," in Bio Explorer, December 12, 2016, https://www.bioexplorer.net/difference-between-anatomy-and-physiology.html/.


  • [1] – “What Is Histology?” IvyRose Holistic Health and Well-being. Accessed December 11, 2016. Link.
  • [2] – “Animal Physiology Research.” Animal Physiology – Research – Biological Sciences – University of Canterbury – New Zealand. Accessed December 11, 2016. Link.
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