It's really not as bad as it sounds. When I was a college student desperate for some change, I participated in medical research at the Kirklin Clinic. All I had to do was fill out some paperwork and get a tiny bit of blood drawn by a skilled and motherly nurse who talked me through my intense fear of needles. Two weeks later I got a check for $50, which isn't a bad rate for 20 minutes.
Many research projects simply want healthy participants, but others can be somewhat specific. If you check out the "Clinical Trials" listings in the UAB Reporter (pick one up around campus, or visit main.uab.edu/Sites/reporter/ and click on "Read Classifieds") you'll see requests for people of specific ethnicity, gender, age and weight. Others call for participants with certain diseases. Another good place to look for medical studies is ClinicalTrials.gov, a free government website with listings arranged by state, disease and other criteria. Compensation varies but it often involves reimbursement for time or travel and, in some cases, free medical treatment. I'm still waiting for a study on the benefits of therapeutic massage.
At one point I also tried selling my blood plasma. Plasma donation (plasmapheresis) is a bit different from your standard whole blood donation (and not just because you can get paid a pretty penny for it). Plasma is extracted from the blood by hooking a donor up to a machine that filters the plasma (the liquid component of blood) from the rest of the blood, which is then returned to the body. The plasma is then used for a variety of medical applications.
Plasmapheresis takes a bit of time, and there are limits on how often you can donate (your body needs time to replace the lost plasma). I was unable to donate my plasma because I didn't have a copy of my social security card, and I couldn't bring myself to ask my parents for it so I could sell my blood for drinking money. But if you have no scruples or your identification materials are readily available you might consider it. PlasmaCare (2101 Third Ave, South, or check it out online at www.plasmacare.com) and BioLife (1620 Third Ave. North, or online at www.plasmazentrum.at) are two places you can donate in Birmingham.
If pure greed isn't enough to convince you to participate in medical research or donate plasma, then you should know that you're weird, and you're the problem with the American economy. But there are some less selfish reasons to participate. By giving your time and energy to medical research and plasma donation, you are providing a service vital to the advancement of medical knowledge, and donated plasma often goes to save the lives of people in need. So don't feel bad about making a buck off of your body, because you might just be helping to save a life. If that's not enough, then consider donating all or some of your earnings to your favorite charity or political campaign.
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