Informal professionalization of healthy participants in phase I clinical trials in Russia

Olga Zvonareva*, Igor Pimenov, Natalia Kutishenko, Igor Mareev, Sergey Martsevich, Evgeny Kulikov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Previous social science research has shown how some healthy phase I trial participants identify themselves as workers and rely on trials as a major source of income. The term "professionalization" has been used to denote this phenomenon. Purpose: We aim to examine a component of healthy trial participants' professionalization that has not yet been systematically studied: how repeat phase I trial participants develop and claim expertise that distinguishes them from others and makes them uniquely positioned to perform high-quality clinical trial labor. We also aim to explain the significance of these research results for protection of healthy participants in phase I trials. Methods: This qualitative exploratory study was conducted in Russia, in two phase I trial units. It involved semi-structured interviews with 28 healthy trial participants with varying lengths of experience in trials, observations of work done in trial units, and interpretive conversations with investigative staff. Results: Interviewed healthy individuals who repeatedly participate in phase I trials describe developing knowledge and skills that involve appreciating the meaning of trial procedures, coming up with techniques to efficiently follow them, organizing themselves and others in the course of a trial, and sharing tacit ways of doing trial work well with other less experienced participants. Our results suggest that a prerequisite for such expertise-centered professionalization is the emergence of a positive identity linked to seeing value in trial participation work. A crucial component of professionalization thus understood is the development of a work ethic that entails caring about results and being reliable partners for investigators. Limitations: The attitudes and behaviors presented in this article are not suggested to be universally shared among healthy trial participants, but rather represent a particular instance of professionalization that coexists with other views and tactics. Conclusions: A way of better protecting healthy trial participants begins with recognizing their skills, knowledge, and the centrality of the contribution they are making to pharmaceutical research. Currently, the expertise of experienced trial participants is recognized on the work floor only; therefore, the professionalization we described is informal. Yet, the informal professionalization process is inherently risky as it does not involve any change in the formal conditions of trial participants' work. Instituting formal measures for protecting healthy trial participants as skilled workers combined with recognition of their expertise is essential.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1740774519877851
Pages (from-to)563-570
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Trials: Journal of the Society for Clinical Trials
Issue number6
Early online date24 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Professionalization
  • informality
  • phase I
  • trial participants
  • healthy volunteers


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