Recruitment and Retention

Recruitment and Retention

The challenge of recruiting and retaining humans to cancer-related research is a national problem. Yet effective recruitment and retention from diverse populations can help studies be efficient, have external validity and avoid bias. Also, investigators who have a history of achieving planned study participation goals may fare better during review of subsequent research proposals.

Barriers to Recruitment

Barriers to recruitment and retention of human participants to research generally occur in one of four areas:

  • Study protocol and budget (e.g., unappealing protocol or consent; inadequate budget)
  • Investigative team (e.g., insensitive or nonresponsive study personnel; poor community recognition)
  • Community (e.g., unaware of research; limited trust in investigator, institution, or research in general)
  • Individual (e.g., unappealing or inappropriately placed recruitment materials and/or methods; delayed identification of potential participants)

Strategies and Goals

In collaboration with Penn Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the Community Sciences and Health Outcomes shared resource of Penn State Cancer Institute began implementing strategies to bolster recruitment and retention to cancer-related studies at Penn State.

The goals for these strategies are that the originally planned number and diversity of participants will complete the study within the originally planned timeline and budget, without an unexpected number/severity of complications; that the study is a responsible steward of the financial and human resources dedicated to recruitment and retention; and that, after the study’s completion, the source population is even more receptive to future research by Penn State.

What We Do

Community Sciences and Health Outcomes offers assistance for recruitment and retention for one of three specific audiences – Penn State Cancer Institute as a whole, its investigators, and the greater scientific community.

For the Cancer Institute, we:

  • Use quantitative metrics to benchmark and monitor our research portfolio
  • Coordinate with national organizations, such as the Recruitment Innovation Center at Vanderbilt University and the Trial Innovation Network, on best practices and evidence-based methods for recruitment and retention
  • Use informatics (e.g., i2b2, TriNetX) to search electronic health records for study cohorts
  • Participate in national recruitment platforms, such as ResearchMatch
  • Established a recruitment and retention working group to increase collaboration among stakeholders at Penn State

For investigators, we:

  • Provide individual consultation on recruitment and retention methods and strategies (preferably during the development of the protocol and budget, but also during acute phases of the research process), focusing on:
    • Innovative recruitment strategies (e.g., use of social media)
    • Study site selection within Penn State Cancer Institute's catchment area
    • Engagement of community networks, such as the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network
    • Protocol adaptation to facilitate participation of study participants
    • Study budget and timeline review
    • Operational solutions (e.g., Lyft transportation to visits)
    • Use of culturally sensitive media and strategies
  • Will soon offer a research van for study enrollment and retention

For the greater scientific community, we:

  • Prepare and scope systematic literature review on effective methods and strategies for recruitment and retention of study participants in rural communities to increase accrual metrics and research engagement

Contact Us

For details on recruitment and retention, contact:

Clinical Trials Search


Children (age < 18 years)
Adults (age >= 18 years)