If you’ve got the time, energy, and motivation, a side hustle can be a good idea—but side hustles aren’t what they used to be. As venture capital dries up, outfits like Uber have started tightening the purse strings; artificial intelligence (AI) is undermining a lot of traditional sources of side income; and side gigs like answering surveys might seem easy but pay abysmally once you factor in the effort involved.
If you’re looking to make real money without getting a second job, participating in paid clinical trials might be an option for you. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly testing new drugs and therapies, and companies are always conducting research to understand conditions and outcomes better. While most of the folks involved in a clinical trial are volunteers who benefit from free, potentially cutting-edge treatment, these trials often need healthy folks as well—and those folks are often paid for their time. There’s huge money in developing new treatments, and money is pouring into the system to speed up the process, so if you’re looking to make some significant cash, this is a real option that’s often overlooked.
Real money, real risk
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How much money are we talking about? The answer is that the money you can make can be significant, but it’s probably not going to replace a full-time job. According to a comprehensive study that appeared in the journal Clinical Trials, the median compensation from paid clinical trials is about $3,000, with most people participating in about three trials a year. A very small number of people earn more than $10,000 from clinical trials annually, so it isn’t going to make you a millionaire. That being said, earning a few thousand dollars is nothing to sneeze at, and there are trials that pay quite well—like this study in Utah that’s offering $15,000.
Most trials involve some basic steps:
- An application process, typically online, to determine your eligibility
- A pre-trial medical examination. Depending on the nature of the trial, this might be done remotely.
- Signing an Informed Consent Form (ICF) where you legally assert you understand the risks involved
- The study period itself, which might be a single day or be spread out over a longer period of time with multiple visits (sometimes with stays of several days or even longer), check-ups, and tests
If you’re thinking, yes, this sounds like good money for sitting around doing nothing, there are some things to keep in mind:
- Time: Many of the higher-paying trials require a significant time investment. That $15k trial mentioned above? You have to go to Utah for 16 days, and return nine times for follow-up visits. And keep in mind that while you can withdraw from a trial at any time, if you don’t complete it, you probably won’t get paid.
- Out-of-pocket expenses: You need to read the study details carefully to see what you’re expected to pay for out of pocket. Sometimes the compensation offered is specifically for travel and lodging expenses, while other times that’s included and there’s more compensation on top. Ideally, you want to target paying trials that reimburse for your expenses.
- Insurance: Many clinical trials expect your insurance to pay for things like blood tests that would normally be covered. If you don’t have insurance, this could be a problem, and if you do have insurance you should double-check that it will cover everything the trial isn’t paying for.
- Risk: Clinical trials often involve brand-new drugs or therapies, and the whole point is to test them on humans to see what happens. While most of these therapies will have been tested extensively on animals and in laboratories by the time you’re involved, there’s always a risk that you’ll experience negative side effects. Drug clinical trials are organized into phases, with Phase 1 being the earliest round of testing. These pay the most because you’ll be among the first humans to try the drug—but they’re also the most risky. Later phases will be less risky because humans have already tested things out before you—but as a result, you won’t get paid as much.
So, yes, the money is real if not life-changing—but lower-end trials and studies can put $100-150 in your pocket with minimal effort on your part, and there’s potential for a lot more.
Finding paid trials
You need money and you’re willing to rent your body to science. How do you find a paid clinical trial in the first place?
The U.S. government maintains a database at ClinicalTrials.gov, but the site is notoriously difficult to use. It’s geared towards people with a specific condition who are seeking help (and not broke healthy folks looking for a little cash), and there’s no way to search for compensation. It’s a starting point, however. You can plug in your location, set a minimum distance, and leave all other fields blank. This will get you a long, long list of trials in your geographical area that you can start investigating.
StudyScavenger is a searchable database of studies that allows you to list by compensation or location, which helps narrow things down quickly. ResearchMatch is a program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that lets you set up a profile to be matched to potential studies and trials. You can also access Trials Today, which is another database that matches you with current clinical trials based on a few quick profile questions.
There are also a few companies that are always running paid trials, though most of them are limited to specific geographical areas where they maintain facilities. Many of these sites will require a specific condition as a search term, which won’t work if you’re looking to be a healthy volunteer for compensation. Still, some of these sites allow you to leave that field blank and search for some trial cash:
- Fortrea Clinical Trials makes it easy to find the paid trials they’re running, but the geographical locations are often limited (as of this writing, they’re only offering trials in Dallas, Texas, Daytona Beach, Florida, and Madison, Wisconsin).
- ICON is another company that offers a lot of trials, but is also pretty limited in its geographical area, conducting studies only in Kansas and Utah.
- Altasciences runs a number of pretty high-paying trials, mainly in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas of California.
Finally, there’s a good old-fashioned Google search. That won’t be the most efficient way to find a paid clinical trial, but it may point you to studies that aren’t listed in other databases.