Participant Recruitment: Start here

The CTSI Participant Recruitment Program (PRP) provides programs, tools, and resources to help research teams meet their recruitment goals.  The program is led by Vanessa Jacoby, MD, MAS and is supported by Molly Belinski. PRP welcomes collaboration, ideas, and suggestions.

Get in touch at [email protected]

Here are a few facts, tips and resources to get started:


Step 1: Understand the recruitment problem

One of the biggest challenges of conducting health research is recruiting participants. Enrolling an adequate number of eligible, diverse, and enthusiastic participants is one of the most crucial requirements for successful research, yet a high proportion of studies, especially clinical trials, do not meet recruitment goals. In a review of 837 studies at Oregon Health & Science University, one-third enrolled no more than one participant, and according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, two-thirds of all clinical trial study sites fail to meet enrollment requirements.

There are many negative consequences of under-enrollment, including:

  • Ethics: Researchers establish a social contract with volunteers when recruiting for a study. Volunteers offer their time and participation. In return, the research team promises to pursue the goal of the study—testing to see if a particular medication works, for example. But if the trial is under-enrolled, researchers may not be able to make good on that social contract.
  • Economic: Academic institutions, funding agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and others invest a lot of time and money in designing and running clinical research. If research teams can’t recruit enough volunteers in a timely fashion to successfully complete the study, it may have a significant economic burden on your group with low return on the investment.
  • Research: Under-enrolled studies that do not complete their research aims slow the progress of science and may delay key discoveries in human health and disease. Even studies that meet recruitment goals frequently fail to enroll a diverse and representative population, which decreases the generalizability and value of study results.


Step 2: Make a plan

PRP offers resources to help studies with recruitment at any stage or research, whether you are developing your protocol, about to launch a study, or need help rescuing an under-enrolling study. To get started, here are a few resources:

Recruitment Planning & Budgeting: Getting Started: Learn the basics of recruitment planning and budgeting, including evaluating feasibility, predicting your screen fail rate, planning, and budgeting.

Recruitment Quick Tips: Nuts and bolts tips to answer the question "How do I do that?" Submit questions you would like answered!

Recruitment Resources: An overview of recruitment methods, with notes on cost, target population, and length of time to implement

Social Media for Recruitment: learn how, when, and why to use social media for recruitment.

EHR Recruitment Letter Service: CTSI offers a Recruitment Letter Service to help study teams identify and invite UCSF patients to participate in research.

Recruitment Consultations: CTSI Consultation Services offers consultations in recruitment methodology and budgeting, digital strategy, and minority recruitment strategies. The first hour is free!

Recruiting Underrepresented Populations: Learn more about the problem of a lack of diversity in research participation.


Step 3: Share what’s working - or what you'd like to see.

Please share your recruitment tips and questions! We’re building a knowledge base of advice, case studies, and tips.

Email [email protected] with your best tips