A highly-paid but potentially risky way to make money is to volunteer for clinical trials.

With clinical trials, paid volunteers are enlisted to test everything from vaccines to cosmetic creams. Deaths are rare. But side effects, such as headaches, rashes or flu symptoms, are not. So, though you could earn thousands, it’s risky.

Types of clinical trials

There are two types of clinical trials — those that enlist people with life-threatening ailments and those involving generally healthy subjects.

To participate in studies for life-threatening ailments, you typically need a doctor referral. Also, you are less likely to get paid than to get free treatment. However, free treatment is often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in these cases. More importantly, the clinical trial could extend your life.

Paid clinical trials

Clinical trials that involve generally healthy subjects, on the other hand, often pay their volunteers. Conducted by medical centers, pharmaceutical companies and treatment centers, volunteers test vaccines, new drugs and treatments.

How it works

Each paid trial is a little different. Some need completely healthy individuals. Others enlist people with non-lethal medical conditions, such as psoriasis or migraines.

Some participants must undergo extensive physical examinations, X-rays and blood tests. Other clinical trials are less intrusive. Then too, some demand lengthy overnight stays, while others involve simple outpatient visits and telephone check-ins.

The study could be complete in a few days — or stretch out for years, requiring intermittent check-ins.

Highly-paid but risky

Total pay also varies dramatically. Short studies that are mildly intrusive typically pay $25 to $100 an hour. Overnight studies pay considerably more — often thousands of dollars.

But higher pay usually signals higher risk. By and large, subjects are being monitored overnight to make sure they don’t have adverse reactions to the treatment.

Covance Clinical Trials, for instance, is recruiting healthy adults for a study that will require a one-night stay and 11 follow-up visits. Compensation: $6,135.

What do you have to do for that kind of money? Subject yourself to two injections, which are aimed at testing immune system response. The drug could cause headaches and flu-like symptoms.

Another Covance study pays more than $7,000. But it requires a shot in your abdomen, which could be painful, and an 8-night stay.

Tricky hourly rates

Figuring how much you make on an hourly basis is more art than science, though. That’s because there are lots of legitimate ways to calculate your hours. For instance, if you participate in a study that involves an overnight stay, do you include the hours you spend sleeping and watching television? Or do you only count hours that you spent engaged in a study-related activity?

Some college students who participated in overnight clinical trials, said they spent most of the time doing their own thing. They were only occasionally interrupted for study-related activities, such as blood-pressure tests.

Why volunteer?

People volunteer for clinical trials for a wide array of reasons.

Anna Barker, a blogger at LogicalDollar, was in it solely for the money. In college at the time, she volunteered for a 2011 study on the effectiveness of flu shots.

The first visit took just under two hours. After that, all she needed to do was check in by phone every few weeks to report whether or not she had flu symptoms. Pay: $1,200.

“It seemed like a fortune for very little work,” she says.

Free medical tests

San Francisco-area CPA, Riley Adams, joined a Tulane University study on bone density for a different reason. He was about to get married and was on the Keto diet. Worried that the diet’s high-fat menu would mess with his health, he was in the market for a body composition test.

These tests can cost as much as $350 and they’re not covered by insurance. So when he found Tulane’s study, which provided free body composition tests as part of the package, he jumped at the chance. The study, which took less than four hours for three in-person visits, also paid $400.

“There was nothing painful, invasive or experimental about this,” he says. Meanwhile, by doing the study he discovered that he was susceptible to a hereditary condition that can make your bones more brittle. The doctors in the study treated his early-osteopenia with calcium and it improved, he says.

“It wasn’t something I expected,” Adams says. “But I am grateful that I did it.”

Great care

Gerri Detweiler, a Florida writer who suffers with migraine headaches, tested a new migraine medication because she was looking for a cure.

She earned a bit more than $1,000. In exchange, she participated in several in-person examinations and responded to a nightly prompt about whether she had a headache. The medication didn’t help her, but it did help others. The drug was approved, and she says she’s proud to have been part of something that helps other migraine sufferers.

But what impressed her most was the marvelous medical care she received from the researchers, who spent hours discussing her health.

“You really have to think about whether you feel safe doing the research,” she says. “But the medical care that I got during the study was fantastic.”

Finding clinical studies

A number of companies, such as Covance and WCCT Global, conduct clinical trials for vaccines and medical treatments pretty much all of the time. Princeton Consumer Research, meanwhile, tests cosmetic products, such as wrinkle creams. If you want to make yourself available to all sorts of clinical trials, you can also join ResearchMatch, a non-profit aimed at matching volunteers with appropriate clinical trials.

However, know that clinical trials are mainly done in person. Thus, the availability of trials depends on where you live. Big cities with lots of medical research facilities tend to have trials going on almost constantly. Clinical trials are harder to find in rural areas with fewer universities and medical centers.

That said, some overnight trials pay enough to warrant travel. And, naturally, you don’t have to worry about where you’ll stay. Overnight trials provide rooms in a dorm or hospital-like setting. They also provide all meals, snacks and basic entertainment, such as television and Wifi.


If you’re seeking out clinical trials, consider searching for those that may help you with another goal. Those who are trying to lose weight or sleep better, for example, can find trials specifically geared to those goals. Have diabetes and are looking for new ways to manage it? The American Diabetes Association has a clinical trial referral page. Too stressed? Look for stress management research.

The organizers of clinical trials also explain the risks, including any potential side effects or procedures likely to cause pain, before you start. Pay close attention.  Decline any trial that makes you uncomfortable. The money, while good, is not as important as your health.


One response to “Clinical trials: Highly-paid but risky”

  1. Daniel Bensimon Avatar
    Daniel Bensimon

    Willing, able and ready to do it.

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