Report from the Inaugural Physiology Majors Interest Group Meeting

When I first heard about the Physiology Majors Interest Group at the APS Teaching Section Symposium entitled “What’s Your Major? The Rise of the Undergraduate Physiology Degree” by co-chairs Erica Wehrwein and John Halliwell at Experimental Biology in 2015, I was immediately excited.  I’m primarily an undergraduate educator and strongly identify as a ‘physiologist’ and hope some of my students do as well.  Yet, I wasn’t entirely sure.  As an assistant professor in a department of Health and Sport Science who primarily advises students in the Exercise Physiology major who want to be physician assistants and physical therapists, was I “enough” physiology?  After attending the first stand-alone conference for this group in East Lansing earlier this summer, I’m not only confident that I was right to be excited about this APS interest group but also that as Erica Wehrwein, organizer of the conference has previously reported, physiology really is alive and well at the undergraduate level.

 

What is a Physiology Major?

One of the overarching topics of discussion at the meeting, in formal sessions and during breaks revolved around this central question regarding physiology education at the undergraduate level.  From the first introductions onward, it was clear it wasn’t going to be a simple answer.  Of the 45 in attendance, a number of different departments and/or majors were represented: physiology, biology, health sciences, human biology, and kinesiology to name a few with 24 to 2274 students in these different majors.  When we talked about the students we teach, advise, and mentor, they are future physicians, nurses, physical therapists, researchers, physician assistants, and many other professions.  Still more diverse, when we compared curricula as reported in a pre-meeting survey, we saw ranges of required courses in basic sciences, anatomy, physiology, and associated laboratories.  Yet, among these differences, there were striking similarities as well.  Sessions sparked discussions of the core concepts (a topic discussed previously on this blog) of physiology we emphasize, required skills that we want our graduates to have and how we try to build these, and common employment trends when students leave our programs and the challenges this can pose for advising.  In regard to the original query of what is a physiology major, as can often be the case in our discipline, it was less about the answer itself, and more about the discussions we had along the way.

 

An integrative discipline, an integrated community

One of the most valuable aspects of the meeting was being able to spend two days with other passionate physiology professionals.  Just as I see integration of physiology and other scientific disciplines, similar to integrated body systems, I was making connections with others from large, research-intensive universities, to small, liberal arts colleges and still others that like myself, fit somewhere in the middle.  Everyone was extremely willing to share their thoughts and ideas on how to best push physiology forward and increase its value in the ever-competitive landscape of higher education.  Conversations ranged from curriculum design to specific teaching strategies and there was a free flow of information with both newer and more seasoned participants engaging in the learning process.  In a sense, the meeting modeled what we often strive to achieve in our programs and classrooms- critical thinking, grounded in evidence, with a creative application towards future improvements or development of new knowledge.

 

What does the future hold?

As the meeting ended, we went our separate ways, armed with new tools and ideas we can implement or consider in our own programs.  A sampling of the ideas I took home:

  • In teaching materials, identify the conceptual model or core principle that is being taught and ask students to do the same when completing assessments.
  • Include teaching about T-Shaped professionals in my Introduction to Health Professions course.
  • Use Khan academy YouTube videos to demonstrate to students how they can concept map while studying.
  • Help students identify transferable skills and knowledge from non-health related job (such as a cashier or server) through ONET.
  • Consider departmental membership in the American Kinesiology Association to further connect with similar programs.
  • Use and contribute to the resources I already knew about, such as Advances in Physiology Education, this LifeSciTRC, and other APS resources.

The interest group will continue, and future meetings are already being planned.  The next meeting will be held in June 2018 at the University of Arizona.  To stay in the loop, join the listserv by contacting Erica Wehrwein (wehrwei7@msu.edu).  To keep physiology education a priority, we will continue to meet, discuss, and inspire the next generation of those who identify with physiology, just as I have and will continue to.  I’m grateful to Erica and the work of the planning committee for putting together an event that focused on this important aspect of the work I do as a physiology educator.

Anne Crecelius is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Sport Science at the University of Dayton.  She teaches Human Physiology and a Capstone Research course.  She returned to her undergraduate alma mater to join the faculty after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. studying Cardiovascular Physiology at Colorado State University.  Her research interest is in the integrative control of muscle blood flow.  She is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Teaching Section Steering Committee and the Communications Committee.

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