Everybody has seen advertisements asking them to volunteer for research studies—on the TV, on the radio, at the supermarket, on the bus, or on the Web. Most people don’t think that these ads apply to them, and don’t know what it means to volunteer for a study. Many of the people who first contact Lincoln Research feel the same way—they aren’t really sure what they’re getting into. But there’s no great mystery about volunteering for a study.

Why Volunteer?

 Clinical research is how we find out whether a new product (medical, cosmetic, or food) is safe and effective to use with patients. All of these products that you can buy or be prescribed have been tested by volunteers. This process helps doctors treat the sick, and many people volunteer because they want to help. However, there are other reasons why people volunteer as well—for financial compensation, for the treatment provided, or for the opportunity to be assessed by a clinician. Every study is different. If you’re interested in a study, talk to the clinician about the possible benefits of volunteering.

What Happens When I Volunteer?

When you call Lincoln Research or another research site, you may be asked to come in to be screened by the research staff. A screen is the first step of the volunteering process; it’s how we find out whether you’re a good candidate for a study. Normally, a screen doesn’t include anything that wouldn’t be part of a normal checkup with your doctor. The study staff will ask you some questions and do some basic tests, such as taking your height, weight, and blood pressure. You may also be asked to give blood and urine samples.

You are screened to make sure that that it will be safe and appropriate to enroll you in a study. For example, in a study of a drug intended to treat Type II Diabetes, it wouldn’t make sense to accept volunteers with Type I diabetes. If that drug raised blood pressure as a side effect, we wouldn’t accept volunteers who have high blood pressure to begin with.

But if everything seems okay, you will move to the next step—informed consent. An informed consent document is a form explaining what you need to know about your part in a study. It includes the risks and benefits, the expectations placed on you, and your rights. In most cases, it will also let you know whether you have a chance of receiving a placebo. At this point you’ll be able to ask any questions of the study staff before you decide whether or not to sign that document and enter the study. The important thing at this point is that you understand, and are comfortable with, your role as volunteer.

Typically, once you sign the informed consent document and officially enroll in a study, you’ll be scheduled between one and four visits a month. At these visits, you’ll often be given a treatment (e.g. a refill of a medication) and interviewed and tested for your response. The study could last for a few weeks, or for years. If the study includes compensation, you will usually receive money at each completed visit.

Most clinical trials are studying medications that have already been determined safe in therapeutic doses. However, the study staff will be closely monitoring any side effects and medical issues. While you always always have the right to withdraw from the trial, the study staff may also decide that it is no longer safe or sensible to keep you enrolled.

It’s important to remember that taking part in a clinical trial is not a substitute for regular medical care. It’s best to talk to your doctor and make sure he or she contacts the research staff as early as possible.

Many people are nervous about taking part in medical research, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. If you’re interested in volunteering, or have further questions, call Lincoln Research at (401) 305-5200, or visit our contact page.