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Medical Research in Belfast; My Experience Saving Money to Travel

So how much do you REALLY want to travel? I mean, it’s easy to say you would “do anything just to travel”, but would you really. Do you love it enough to sign up for Medical Research in Belfast, or anywhere, for that matter? Because I would!

I had just returned from working on a summer camp in USA for disadvantaged kids in New York, and a spent couple of months touring the US with friends, so I was broke. So broke that when I arrived in London, my sister had to give me £20 so I could afford the train to the connecting airport for my flight back to Dublin.

So here I was, zero money in my bank account, some minor debts from a crazy time in Vegas, and with dreams to continue traveling. What could I do? I was back in Kilkeel, my small town in Ireland. But couldn’t work out a way to live my travel dreams. Working for $10 an hour in a bar would see me stuck at home for months. I couldn’t do it. 23 years old and I wanted to see the world, experience crazy things, get lost in foreign countries. I had to do something. Something drastic. Medical Research in Belfast!

Medical research in Belfast
Young me backpacking for the first time, funded by medical research in Belfast

What is Medical Research?

In short, you get locked in a hospital for a certain length of time and a company pays you to test drugs on you.

The slightly longer version for those of you not in the medical research loop, the premise is basically that huge pharmaceutical companies can’t release new drugs until they have been tested on ‘willing’ guinea pigs (of the human variety). The pharma companies, therefore, undertake medical research whereby they offer significant compensation to people who are willing to let them test their drugs on you. After you have signed a very large disclaimer contract stating that if you get ill, lose limbs or die, you can’t sue them. Marvellous.

So I scoured the internet for medical research/clinical trials in Ireland and stumbled across a company offering Medical research in Belfast. About a 90 minute drive from my hometown of Kilkeel. They were running a medical test that lasted 5 weeks. I called up and enquired.

Basically the deal was this:

  • You get locked in their private hospital with 20 other people for 33 days.
  • You can’t leave the room for the whole 5 weeks under any circumstances, if you leave you don’t get paid.
  • Any exercise whatsoever is banned
  • You can only eat at set meal times, no snacks ever, and you must eat exactly what they give you regardless of whether you like it or not. They have to keep all the conditions constant across patients.
  • NO visitors are allowed at any time!
  • You take drugs twice a day and get 12 vials of blood taken daily.
  • You wake up at 5.45 am (to take the first set of drugs) and go to sleep strictly at 10.30 pm.
medical research belfast
medical research Belfast; My ‘home’ for the 5 weeks, I slept in the cell behind the TV. Horrific.

In exchange for all that madness, I would be paid £2000 ($2600) tax-free, upon completion of my medical research in Belfast. I agreed and signed the forms. Soon I found myself going through a stringent medical, got the all-clear and within 10 days I was on the way to Belfast to get locked in the clinic

To be frank, I thought it would be a breeze. Just over a month. No probs. I’ll read books, watch movies, play Playstation. Easy, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

LOCKED UP; The Experience

On day 1 of my medical research in Belfast, we got to meet the other patients, and it was a very strange group of people. I don’t know what I was expecting, but in hindsight it’s only weird, desperate or broke people who would submit themselves to an ordeal like this. So it’s actually not that surprising that the group was quite an odd bunch. I was hoping there would be a selection of younger people in my situation. Perhaps just graduated high school or university and needing a quick cash injection but in reality, it was older,  long term unemployed people who preferred to do this a couple of times a year rather than building their careers in the real world. My hopes of like-minded people was crushed. This was going to be a long month.

The doctors and nurses were friendly enough, but it’s a pretty boring time for them too. They take so many injections and blood samples each day from you, so rather than literally inject you 25 times per day, they actually fit a tap into your vein (a cannula). Now they can flip a switch and take blood multiple times each day. 10 years on I still have a scar in my arm from that thing.

medical research ireland
The cannula they put in your arm!

5.30 am wake up, take drugs, give blood, have an injection. Then it’s breakfast, and the food is pretty bad. It’s a kind of a mix between standard hospital food and aeroplane meals. Not a great combo. And remember, you HAVE to eat everything on the plate. They can’t risk any factors differing between patients. So if you’re not a big fan of that damp, limp tuna and onion salad. Tough luck, son. You have to eat it up. The staff circulate to make sure everyone finishes everything. Although when it’s particularly bad I’d be walking out with my pockets full of the least desirable things and discretely disposing of it down the toilet later!

medical research northern ireland
Hospital food. Yum.

On Day 2 I watched the entire director’s cut trilogy of Lord of the Rings BACK TO BACK. That is 726 minutes, or 12 hours and 6 minutes. What a day. And from there, it was all downhill.

Remember, no exercise is allowed as it may affect the behaviour of the experimental drugs. So you can’t use the time to get in good shape and annoyingly, I didn’t have my blog then so I couldn’t work on that either. That left me with books, TV, and movies. But there’s only so many times you can watch the OC and One Tree Hill (kidding, kind of…). The days seemed neverending.

The boredom was horrible, all I could think about was getting out. It was literally like being in prison but by choice. I needed the money so I couldn’t quit, so I sucked it up, and each day ran into the next. The food almost became bearable. The blood was flowing out of my arm at pre-set timings. The routine was set, and of course, the days dragged on, but like all things, it soon came to an end.

When the last day came, I could have cried. Walking out the front door of the clinic was heaven, I went straight to Subway for a footlong meatball sub, BBQ sauce, extra bacon, a huge coke then onto a bar in Belfast for a delicious pint of Guinness, and then maybe a couple more. It never tasted so good. Actually, we weren’t supposed to drink alcohol on day 1, as we had a check-up the next day. Thankfully nothing flagged during the check-up. I received my money a few days later, and you know what? It was all worth it.

Using the Medical Research in Belfast Money For Travel

November 2006. 22 years old, and I had almost $3000 thanks to this mad medical trial stuff. The time was right, I was going to change my life forever. Back to my home in Ireland with my mum. I spent December researching ‘how to travel the world’, ‘how much does it cost to travel’, ‘traveling with very little money, and I stumbled across ‘teaching English in Asia’. The course that would allow me to teach English around the world is run through Cambridge University. It cost $1600 (about £1100) AND you could study it in Thailand. THAILAND?! Now we’re talking. Time to change my life.

I used my medical research money to book myself on that course. I signed a contract to work in China after I completed my course in Chiang Mai, Thailand and booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand for February. What a way to spend my hard-earned cash. One last Christmas with my mum, sister and grandmother and early the next year I was off. Little did I know I wouldn’t be home again for nearly 4 years, but I’d be coming back a changed man.

A traveler, a blogger, a businessman, a free man. But it all started with the medical research. So would I recommend it? You might think I’m mad, but absolutely yes. It changed my life, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. People often ask me now, did it have any side effects. My initial response is always ‘of course not’, but then again, directly after the medical research, I’ve been on a quest to every country in the world. Seeking adventures and experiences in every corner of the globe, never settling for an average life, so who knows, maybe it did have an effect on me! Certainly a positive one.

So, when you say you’d do anything to travel, do you really mean it!? Medical research in Belfast was a drastic choice, but a good one! Would you do it?! Let me know in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “Medical Research in Belfast; My Experience Saving Money to Travel

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  2. I keep hearing their ads on Cool fm and between working from home and trying to homeschool I’d consider it for a break!

  3. Pingback: My Travels Around The World Truly Begin - One-Way to Thailand | One Step 4Ward
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  6. johnny i really want to follow your foot.please send me your free ebook.i put my email there but i didn’t receive a link to download the book.

  7. johnny i really need to follow your please send me your free ebook.i put my email in the box but i didn’t receive any link from you.

  8. Don’t know if I would be brave enough to put myself through that so fair dues!
    I’m coming home to ireland after spending 5 months living in Ibiza, and after travelling around Thailand last summer it’s put it in my head I don’t want to stay home for long, I’m lucky with my job I can go straight back in and the money is good, I’m only going home for 8 weeks then onto New York… This is the tricky part, Thailand was pretty inexpensive and very easy to live and travel cheaply as you know, we plan on going to Brazil for a month for a jiujitzu camp and then back to ireland after…. I’m afraid I’ll be broke before I even leave nyc especially as it’s Christmas Starting to think I don’t have enough time to save !!!

  9. Hmm … I probably would have preferred the ol’ bartending job over this. Although it would require me to spend a few months longer before I could travel, I am the type of person to budget and save for travel. So, I wouldn’t have mind due my high level of patience and persistence.

    But I can see where you are coming. It’s November. You just worked at a Summer camp and spent your savings travelling around the United States. So who actually hires part time positions in Ireland at that time of the year? The “quick month of work” was a good call with this medical research gig. It definitely kept you humble after all these years.

  10. It’s so scary, man. It sounded easy at first but after I read this, I don’t think I’d sign up for that. I can’t believe some people do that a couple of times a year. Like, is it actually worth it? I understand doing it once or when life forces you too to it, but to treat it like a source of regular income, that’s like insane. Great post!

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