The Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences in physiology and medical sciences is the second-most popular major for new freshmen at the University of Arizona. For Phoenix native and third-generation Wildcat Kyle Cook, the fact that the University of Arizona is the only public institution in the state to offer a physiology degree had a big influence on his decision about where to go after high school.
"The physiology program was a draw because being able to take courses that I was more interested in, like anatomy and physiology, was a lot more appealing than what I would be doing at Arizona State, like microbiology or something like that," Cook explains.
As he started college, Cook knew he wanted to go into the health sciences. However, he was unsure if he wanted to be a physician, a physical therapist or a nurse.
"Coming into college, I had a general curiosity in the health sciences," Cook remembers. "I thought it was my calling because I had some really cool personal experiences with health care."
Cook had two surgeries on his hand growing up: once in second grade when doctors removed a benign tumor, and again in high school when another one appeared on the other side of the joint. Cook had the same doctor both times, and his ability to relate to Cook made a positive impression.
"The doctor showing me images from the surgery, explaining things to me about how he operated on my hand, showing me the more personal and human side of medicine was important," Cook says. "I really enjoyed my experience with him because he took the time to sit down and explain things to me. I was having fun listening to him tell me about the technicalities of surgery. It was really cool."
'You get a taste of all the stuff you're interested in'
Once Cook made the choice to major in physiology and medical sciences, he realized the freedom students have to take classes in areas that interest them. The first two courses students are required to take, Physiology 201 and 202, teach them the basics of the anatomical and physiological systems in the human body.
Then, students can pick specific classes that dive deeper into those subjects. Cook remembers a specific class with Zoe Cohen, PhD, associate professor of physiology, that focused on an interest he found early in his academic career.
"In Physiology 201, I really liked our small block on the cardiovascular system," Cook says. "Then, I have the opportunity junior or senior year to take Physiology 485 with Dr. Cohen where it's a whole semester going in-depth about all the stuff I really liked. That's really cool about this department. You get a taste of all the stuff you're interested in, and then you can go take those classes."
The diversity in classes this program offers is a point of pride. The major recently underwent a name change from "physiology" to "physiology and medical sciences." The change occurred because academic leadership wanted to add more emphasis areas to help students pursue their goals.
Now, there are emphasis areas for physiology, medical sciences, exercise and extreme physiology, and physiological research and innovation.
"We have different courses that are required in each of these areas, and each of them are more tailored," says Claudia Stanescu, PhD, associate department head for education. "Someone who wants to go into medicine or become a physician assistant would pick medical sciences. If they wanted to do research they have that path. Exercise and extreme physiology is good for someone who's interested in pursuing physical therapy or sports medicine."
It's these classes that help create well-rounded students who can succeed in many professions after college. The department also prides itself on the many extracurricular chances it offers.
"We offer a lot of opportunities for students to get involved in leadership positions and develop professional skills, which I think are important to be a well-rounded person and be able to succeed in any job, any direction that you choose to take after graduation," Dr. Stanescu says.
'Putting yourself out there'
Cook has taken full advantage of all the leadership and research opportunities afforded by the department. Cook is the president of the Physiology Club and works as an undergraduate researcher. He was first inspired to join the club as a freshman by two upperclassmen who are now in their second years of medical school at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson: Jacob Ref and Natalie Caryl.
Ref recruited Cook at an orientation event, and Caryl was the club's president during Cook's first year in the club. After positive experiences with the club as a freshman, Cook decided to serve on the board as the clinical chair, and eventually president.
"After being on the board for a year and wanting to stay there and apply to president, my main thing is I just want to give back like Natalie and Jacob and all these other people gave to me," Cook says.
Cook's extracurricular activities don't stop with the Physiology Club. He also works as an undergraduate researcher at the Sarver Heart Center under the mentorship of Steven Goldman, MD, professor of medicine, where they are looking at regenerative therapies to treat heart problems in the future. Cook attended a research panel, of which Ref was a participating member, and found interest in the work.
"A big part about the whole undergrad experience is putting yourself out there and trying to learn about all these different things you can get involved in," Cook says. "I didn't know what research was, so I went to the research panel. After hearing a little bit more about what these other undergrads are doing, I started to understand more."
As he came closer to completing his undergraduate studies, Cook realized he wanted to maintain his strong ties to the College of Medicine – Tucson. Hoping to stay here for medical school, he applied to the Honors Early Assurance Program and gained early admission to the college's medical school before he finished his junior year.
"After being here at the University of Arizona, and after all my undergraduate experiences, being involved in Physiology Club, and after having finally decided on wanting to be a physician and taking that path through the College of Medicine – Tucson, I thought, here's my first choice," Cook says.