There are many reasons why you may be interested in joining a medical clinical trial. Maybe you’re short on cash, like I was when I decided to take part in a study on a topical medication for skin breakouts. Maybe you have a medical condition and would like to try a new treatment, and get paid for it at the same time. Whatever the reason, there are times when turning yourself over to a research lab seems like a good way to make some easy money. But before you get started, here are some things that may be helpful to know.
Finding a Clinical Trial
Clinical trials come in many shapes and sizes, and finding one that’s right for you can be a challenge. Here are three ways to find a clinical trial:
- Try an online database of clinical trials. The US National Institute of Health offers a nationwide database at ClinicalTrials.gov. You can search by geographic area or by medical condition. MyClinicalTrial.com also offers a national database, with the added option of signing up to get alerts when trials for your condition open up in your area.
- Identify medical research companies that operate in your local area. You can call to find out if there are any studies relevant to you, or you can often fill out a form on the company’s website that will allow them to contact you when a study you may be interested in is recruiting.
- Search Craigslist.org. This is how I found the study that I went through. On any given day in my local area, there are three or four different clinical trials being advertised in Craigslist. This is also a great way to find out what research companies are active in your city.
How a Clinical Trial Works
Medical trials vary greatly and so do the processes of completing them; however, there are a few things that most trials will have in common. Once you have entered a trial, you will generally have an initial consultation to check up on your health status and receive instructions for the trial. If your trial involves testing a medication, you may be given a supply of the medication to take home. For my study, I was given a topical medicated face cream to use at home. I was given detailed instructions on when and how to apply it, and was told not to use any other facial products during that time. For other studies, you may have to visit the research office periodically to receive the treatment or procedure. During the trial period, you will probably have in-office visits to check on your progress. In my case, I had one check-in visit halfway through the study to switch to a different medication so that the results beween the two could be compared. At the end of the study, you will likely have a final consultation where the results of your treatment are discussed. Mine consisted of a few in-person questions, an examination of my facial skin, and then a final computer survey to give my opinions on the study. In some cases you may have follow-up appointments weeks, months, or even years after the study has concluded.
Many people think that a clinical trial is a way to get some quick cash, but it’s not so simple. Most trials run for at least a few weeks, and you may not be paid until you have completed the entire study. My study on skin breakouts was a fairly easy three-week affair with only three visits to the research laboratory, but some studies can require much more time commitment. For example, a current posting on Denver’s Craigslist advertises a clinical trial on how exercise affects cancer risk. It involves four visits per week for sixteen weeks, plus follow-up appointments at 4 months and 10 months after the study! If you join a clinical trial, you will be expected to be punctual to all scheduled appointments. Many studies, including the one I did, require you to have your own vehicle to get to your visits.
Being in a clinical trial can feel like being on trial. You will be asked a lot of questions that may include your age, sex, health history, current medical conditions, what medications you take, diet, exercise, habits, schedule, and more. Although it might feel like an invasion of privacy, answering all these questions honestly is very important both to make sure that you fit the needs of the researchers, and to make sure that medications or procedures used in the study won’t be harmful to you. It may be tempting to fib a little to make sure you don’t get disqualified from a study, but take it from me: don’t do it! I chose not to mention in my initial consultation that I have easily-irritated skin, and the result was that I spent three weeks with a red, itchy, flaky face from the medication I tested. My breakouts actually got worse because of the irritation instead of better. Irritated skin is a fairly mild consequence, but if your clinical trial is for a more serious condition like diabetes or asthma, the negative effects could be far more serious. Make sure that you give all information as truthfully as you can.
Is it Worth it?
With the possibility of a hefty time commitment, a slew of personal questions, having to remember precisely when and how to use a trial medication, and potential side effects, is going through a clinical trial really worth the effort? Obviously that answer will vary from person to person. For my three-week, three-visit trial, I was paid about $80, which considering the time required was a decent paycheck. It didn’t pay the rent, but it did put groceries on the table for a while. However, having stinging, itching skin for three weeks made me rethink whether I would do a clinical trial again. If you have the available time and are good at being punctual and taking medications on time, then a clinical trial can be rewarding both financially and perhaps also for your health. If you think you’re a good candidate, then joining a shorter study would be a good way to test whether the benefits are satisfactory for you.