I am originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee. I moved to Northern Virginia in 2006 to pursue graduate study in energy and economics. I didn't discover the clinical trials at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) until 2009. In retrospect, enrolling in a clinical trial would have been a perfect complement to my open class schedule.
My wife, who began her career in public health at the National Institutes of Health, introduced me to the VRC, and together we enrolled in our first clinical trial, an avian influenza study. Participating in a VRC clinical trial was really great, with lots of smiling faces to welcome us each time we came in for a visit. We appreciated the experience enough to enroll in a second clinical trial, which focused on a lesser-known, but no less dangerous virus called chikungunya. In 2013, I volunteered in a third VRC clinical trial, which is investigating a promising malaria vaccine.
I have discovered several great reasons for participating in clinical trials at the NIH and in particular at the VRC. First, this is a tremendous service that benefits public health—you, me, all of us—in the United States and abroad. Many years ago, my wife nearly died from malaria, and this episode convinced us that the world needs the vaccines that the VRC and the NIH are working to create. Second, I appreciate playing a role in scientific discovery and progress. Third, I personally find it very useful to see the results of the extensive blood work and other medical testing conducted as part of the clinical trials. While the tests are not comprehensive and are no substitute for primary care, it is great to know that my "immature granulocytes" are within healthy parameters (he says with a wink).
Based on my personal experiences, I encourage people to look into the clinical trials at the VRC. You really cannot ask for nicer or more dedicated and knowledgeable staff than those at the VRC, and they appreciate all of their volunteers. Give it a shot and be a part of something truly important!