comprehensive physiology (CP) is a review journal that originated out of the old book series Handbook of Physiology. This is a collection of reviews covering the breadth of physiology that represents state-of-the-art knowledge of physiological systems that go beyond what can be found in medical textbooks. This Editorial provides an explanation for how this journal could be used as a tool for advanced education in biomedical sciences for graduate students as well as basic science and clinical fellows.
Whenever I am asked about how I developed an interest in physiology, I recall my undergraduate course in human physiology, where we used Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology. There was something about reading this book and being fascinated with the complexities of how the human body functions that captured my interest and desire to learn more. That book still sits on the shelf in my office. When I arrived in graduate school and began my career in research, this book no longer provided the level of information that I needed to get up to speed with other investigators in my field of research. Of course, the primary literature, located within the library in those days, became my friend. However, one of the major challenges was that even then the literature was larger than one person with my limited experience could manage. Fortunately, I had the Handbook of Physiology.
The Handbook of Physiology is a collection of review articles published in a series of books. Each volume included state-of-the-art reviews from leaders in the field. Books were published every few years and would cover the entirety of a particular topic primarily focused on the major organ systems. For my own area, renal physiology, the initial 1973 volume was filled with important details not in the textbook, although there were some aspects that were not up to date by the time I started using it in 1979. Nonetheless, it gave me valuable advanced knowledge that was not available in the textbooks. Furthermore, this collection of reviews covered every topic area within the field of renal physiology. The Handbook of Physiology for renal physiology was not updated again until 1992. So today, this book is no longer state of the art, even though this older content still provides valuable historical information and detail not covered in textbooks. Given that publishing a multiauthor textbook can take several years to assemble, the American Physiological Society decided to transform this book series into an online review journal, now known as CP.
Today, scientific publishing has expanded at an astonishing rate, and review articles are everywhere. When entering a new field of study, whether as a trainee or an established investigator seeking to expand the scope of their work, finding a source of complete, reliable, up-to-date information can be a daunting task. This is where CP can fill a void. As a comprehensive collection of our current understanding of physiological mechanisms, this journal is ideal for getting up to speed on a broad, organ-based topic. It goes without saying that understanding the physiology of a particular system is critically important for conducting basic physiological research. But just as importantly, it is critical for those of us who are in the biomedical field and who need to understand the fundamentals of physiology before understanding pathophysiological mechanisms.
Much of biomedical graduate education these days is thought to occur in the laboratory and not the classroom. Unfortunately, too many graduate programs have glossed over the basic fundamentals of physiology and focused on cell and molecular biology. While this is largely because so much of the research is cellular and molecular, putting relevance to this work in a physiological system is necessary to justify the time, effort, and expense. Focusing on the primary literature is certainly required, but how are graduate programs and medical fellowship programs getting trainees up to speed on the physiological basis of medicine, which is essential to fully understand and address their research questions? Even for more established investigators, how easy is it to learn new areas as your research evolves and expands?
I would like to propose that CP can be used as a framework for advanced education. Take my own area of research, renal physiology, as an example. Along with my colleagues, I have been involved in team teaching an advanced renal physiology course for PhD students and the occasional clinical fellow. The basic structure of this course is shown in Table 1 [in Topics (Week)]. While we require a basic understanding at the level of one of the mainstream medical textbooks, the course is not about the textbook material but is focused on the primary literature that elucidates novel mechanisms that control kidney function and are the subjects of current investigations. However, reading the current literature can be very difficult for early career individuals who are overwhelmed by the volume of the literature and do not have the benefit of decades of study like their instructors. Therefore, we can use the articles in CP to provide that more indepth, state-of-the-art information. I like to think of CP as the textbook for the initiated.
One can go through the other topics related to organ system biology and develop similar background for advanced study. These reviews could be paired with specific original research articles to demonstrate where the article fills a gap in our knowledge. This would provide the basic framework for teaching students how to identify where our knowledge is lacking and form a discussion based on generating new hypotheses and development of critical thinking skills. I challenge CP's Editorial Advisory Board, Topic Editors, and readers of Advances in Physiology Education to create syllabi using CP articles such as those shown in Table 1 for other physiological topics and submit them to Advances in Physiology Education.
CP is published quarterly online. Articles are organized into major topic categories (Table 2). New articles are being continuously added to every topic as the content is not only expanded but also updated. An added feature is that all of the most recent Handbook of Physiology articles have been scanned and are also available within these topic categories.
One of the unique features of CP is that all of the figures are freely available for downloading. These can be extremely useful teaching tools. Figure 1 shows several screen captures from a typical article and where the images can be found.
As a footnote, it may be important to verify that your institutional library carries a subscription to CP. Because this is an evolution of a book series in partnership with Wiley, it is sold through a subscription program that is independent of the regular American Journal of Physiology package. Please contact the managing editor, Margaret Reich, if you would like to learn how your institution could subscribe (e-mail:).
D. Pollock is the Editor-in-Chief of Comprehensive Physiology.
D.M.P. prepared figures; D.M.P. drafted manuscript; D.M.P. edited and revised manuscript; D.M.P. approved final version of manuscript.
D. Pollock thanks Margaret Reich (Managing Editor of Comprehensive Physiology) for help with this article.
- Copyright © 2016 The American Physiological Society