Guest Blogger: Why I Donated Plasma for Money and My Honest Review

I started donating plasma in my free time over the summer before I headed to college. I was interested in starting to save up for college but didn’t want to work my entire summer away. Many of my friends had donated before so I decided to give it a shot. Following, I will overview the donation process, and outline the pros and cons of donating.

The first step potential donors must take in the donation process is locating a center. Plasma donation can be extremely profitable, with most centers allowing donations twice a week. However, if the location of the center is not convenient, much of the attractiveness of donating disappears once the cost of gas adds up. When you first arrive, you need to bring a current ID with a photo, as well as your Social Security card. In particular, you need to bring a document showing proof of your current address. The last piece of paperwork is a signature, then they move you into step two of the plasma donation process; the physical examination.

The physical takes place in two parts; a physical examination by a technician and a health history form that you will need to fill out. The physical examination is very straightforward. They will take your weight (you must be over 110 pounds to donate safely), make sure you aren’t ill, and ensure that overall you are in good health. The second part, however, is quite extensive. They ask about your travel history, sexual health history, and give you a crash course in plasma donation processes and safety regulations. In order to move on to the next step, one must clear their physical examination as well as show no red flags as a donor in their survey. 

Next, donors move on to the last step before actual donation. The plasma donation centers look at two things to approve you for donation; iron and blood protein levels. The test to check these is quite simple; They will take a small blood sample and then spin it through a machine to check hemoglobin levels. Eating a healthy diet doesn’t actually guarantee that you can donate, much like the process of donating blood. I’ve gone to donate plasma with friends who were denied for donating after eating fully balanced meals the entire day before, while I’ve been approved having eaten only Frosted Flakes and sandwiches. Hemoglobin levels are usually the determining factor for this, and these can be raised by eating iron-rich foods like eggs, beans, and, coincidentally, Frosted Flakes. 

Finally, after clearing this last step, donors can move on to the actual room for donation. While  these vary from center to center, the one that I donated in was basically a supersized room, with donation “cubicles” in rows. First-time donors often work with specially trained technicians to create a much more hands-on first-time experience. These technicians are basically extra nice, and I would highly recommend asking lots of questions if you are uneasy about any step in the donation process. 

If you are uneasy with blood, these centers may not be the place for you. Plasma extraction essentially takes the blood out of your system, withdraws the plasma, then recirculates the blood back into your body with a saline mixture to make up for the plasma volume taken out. Donors can see this process happening, and when the recirculation begins one can often feel the blood re-entering the body, due to the fact that the cool saline causes a temperature drop. Other than this, though, the donation process is fairly easygoing, a relatively painless.

There are obviously benefits to plasma donation. Many centers offer the prospect of making up to $80 a week, sometimes more. The only restrictions on donation (assuming you pass your physicals and hemoglobin test) are based on frequency. Donors can donate twice a week, with at least 24 hours between the donations. The profitability is quite appealing, and many centers use the plasma for chronic-disease treatment and therapies. The plasma is essential for treating patients and doing research on various diseases. 

On the other hand, many centers don’t use the plasma for medical purposes. Plasma is also being trialed for cosmetic treatments, something which doesn’t sit too well with me. After all, if I go in to donate plasma I would love to know that it is going to a “good home”. Plasma donation at the scale that the US does it is also not the safest practice. Most other countries only allow you to donate once or twice a month, or even less. The plasma donation center staff are also not trained nurses or medical professionals, meaning the training they receive can be minimal and often incomplete. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the plasma donation centers are incorrigibly corrupt, and should be shunned at all costs. Rather, it means that anyone looking to make a quick buck donating plasma should research the center, and make sure to let any staff know if something doesn’t feel right; the donor’s safety is, after all, the center’s top priority.

Personally, I ended up deciding that plasma donation wasn’t for me. Despite plasma donation being easy, relatively quick, and profitable, my body’s negative reaction to the treatments caused me to decide to stop donating. I had under the skin bruising from improper needle insertion, and my arms were always sore for days after. Not only this, but they usually had to stick me multiple times to find a vein that would work for donation, meaning I consistently was exposing myself to unnecessary risk of infection. 

However, I always thought I would simply switch centers, go somewhere with more highly trained staff. I didn’t anticipate that I would be entirely done with donation. After reading a few articles about the use of the plasma, though, and the unsafe nature of donating in America, I ultimately decided that what was initially going to be a short-term recovery break would become a permanent retirement from donation. This was just what was best for my physical health, and what matched best with my moral stance and ideals about how my body’s plasma should be used. 

In summary, plasma donation can be a fun and fairly hassle-free way to make some extra cash. Potential donors must mind their health and their diet, but other than that it’s almost a guaranteed weekly income for very minimal time commitment. As long as you do your research and keep an eye out for any warning signs, it can quickly become a fruitful side hustle. However, I would definitely advise anyone considering to make sure they understand all the details about the center they go to, and make sure that personal health is put first.

Elizabeth Barrett is a junior studying Marketing and Management at the University of Iowa. She is involved in many extracurriculars, including Delta Sigma Pi professional business fraternity. As a college student, she is always trying to find new and inventive ways to save and make money.

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