Clinical Research FAQs

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FAQs About Clinical Research

The decision to participate in clinical research is personal, but its impacts are far-reaching

We've compiled a list of frequently-asked questions and some resources where you can learn more about clinical research, both in general and as it is conducted at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.

Here, you can learn about the ways studies are monitored to keep safety a top priority, how you can get involved in clinical research, and more.


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Clinical Research Basics

What is a clinical research trial or study?

Clinical research is a scientific investigation to find out how a potential medication or treatment works in people.

Why do researchers perform clinical research?

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Through clinical research, researchers find new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, control and treat illnesses. Most of our current information on medicines and diseases has been obtained from research. New drugs are being developed and may offer advantages over existing ones. For example, vaccines and antibiotics have been developed to end many previously common and deadly diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and childhood leukemia. Participating in clinical research studies allows you to be a part of this process.

Who participates in clinical research, and how are they selected?

Clinical research studies are available for people with specific diseases and for healthy people who want to help advance science. Every study identifies the specific characteristics that the participants must have in order to participate. These characteristics are called eligibility criteria. Some of these criteria include age, general health, a diagnosis of a particular disease, certain symptoms, etc.

What if I don’t have a disease or condition? Can I still take part in clinical research?

Absolutely. Many clinical research studies rely on healthy volunteers – those without a particular condition. Often, healthy volunteers are used as a comparison to a similar person with a condition. This helps scientists understand differences and similarities in people and how diseases affect them differently. If you are interested in being a healthy volunteer in one of our studies, please fill out this form.

What are the benefits of participating in a clinical study?

There are no guaranteed personal benefits from participation in a clinical research study. Any potential benefits will be discussed with you as part of the consent process. Your involvement may help future patients and advance science and understanding of disease. Some studies may offer compensation for your time.

How do I know if I’m participating in a clinical research study?

Participation in clinical trials or studies is completely voluntary. You must agree to participate and you’ll be asked to sign a consent form, which gives detailed information about the study, procedures, medications and risks.

What happens during a clinical research study?

Participation in a clinical study means you will work with a research team in a medical setting. Team members include doctors, nurses, study coordinators, and other health care professionals. A principal investigator monitors participants during the research study. How the study will be conducted will be explained to you during the consent process.

What does it cost me to participate?

White it is different for every study, most studies cover the cost of examination and procedures for the study. This can include physical exams, doctor visits, study medications, laboratory tests, EKGs and more.

What happens if I no longer want to participate in a study?

Participating in a clinical trial or study is completely voluntary and you can leave the study at any time if you change your mind.

Will my health care provider be informed of any health issues discovered during the trial?

While clinical research trial personnel do not diagnose health issues, nor are they an extension of your primary care team, if there is a concern that arises, you will be advised to schedule an appointment with your own health care provider to be properly examined.

What do "phases" mean in clinical trial listings?

Clinical trials for new medications will often list a "phase" in their description. Here is what those phases indicate:

  • Phase 1: This is an study in a small group of 20 to 80 people in which researchers evaluate the drug's safety, determine how it works in the human body. It also identifies side effects and is used to determine a safe dosage.
  • Phase 2: This study looks at how effective the drug is in a slightly larger group of people, generally between 100 to 300. Further safety evaluations are also done at this phase.
  • Phase 3: A phase 3 study is done after early evidence suggests the drug is effective. This is an expanded trial that includes thousands of people, both those taking the medication and people not taking it. It is used to confirm effectiveness, monitor side effects, and compare the new drug to commonly used treatments for the same condition. 
  • Phase 4: These studies are done after the drug has been marketed. They are done to collect information about the drug's effect in specific populations, and to measure any side effects associated with long-term use.

How do I find research studies I can volunteer for?

The best way to find clinical trials at Penn State is to use our StudyFinder search tool. This lists trials that are currently seeking volunteers and can be searched by topic, keyword, condition and more. And, don’t forget, if you are interested in being a healthy volunteer, please fill out this form.