Researchers’ and Clinicians’ Perceptions of Recruiting Participants to Clinical Research: A Thematic Meta-Synthesis

Lisa Newington, Alison Metcalfe


Background: Recruiting the desired number of research participants is frequently problematic with resulting financial and clinical implications. The views of individuals responsible for participant recruitment have not been previously reviewed. This systematic review and thematic meta-synthesis explores researchers’ and clinicians’ experiences and perceptions of recruiting participants to clinical research, with the aim of informing improved recruitment systems and strategies.

Methods: Studies published between January 1995 and May 2013 were identified from: Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid EMBASE, Ovid PSYCHINFO, ASSIA, British Nursing Index, Scopus, Web of Science, CINAHL and PubMed. Included studies were original peer reviewed research, with qualitative methodologies and an aim of exploring the views of clinicians and/or researchers on recruitment to clinical research. Studies discussing the recruitment of patients unable to give informed consent were excluded. The findings sections of the relevant studies were free coded to identify key concepts which were grouped into hierarchical themes. The quality of the identified studies was assessed and the relative contribution of each paper was checked to ensure individual studies did not dominate in any theme.

Results: Eighteen relevant papers were identified which examined the views of researchers and clinicians in 10 clinical specialties. Five main themes emerged: building a research community, securing resources, the nature of research, professional identities and recruitment strategies. The views of researchers and clinicians were similar, although the role of ‘researcher’ was inconsistently defined.

Conclusions: The general experience of recruiting participants to clinical research was one of competition and compromise. Competition arose over funding, staffing and participants, and between clinical and research responsibilities. Compromise was needed to create study designs that were acceptable to patients, clinicians and researchers. Forging relationships between clinical and research teams featured extensively, however the involvement of patients and the public within the research community was rarely discussed.

J Clin Med Res. 2014;6(3):162-172


Research subject recruitment; Research personnel; Medical staff; Systematic review

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