Research Engagement: Recruiting Pregnant Women of Color

April 26, 2022

Sarah Vaughan, PhDWhen it comes to medical studies, researchers often face a challenge: recruiting enough people of color to make their findings valid across different ethnic groups.

“Recruitment in general is really difficult,” said Sarah Vaughan, PhD, a research associate in the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “When you’re trying to recruit from vulnerable populations, it can be especially difficult.”

Her methodology paper, published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, identified several strategies for engaging more African American women in research. Many of those findings could apply to all human relationships: Be respectful, friendly, and reliable.

For her research, Vaughan gleaned data from another, multi-state study of preterm births. The team of researchers used several strategies to recruit and retain African American women at two clinics in the Detroit area and one in Columbus, Ohio.

Many of the recruiters were Black female college students.

“We could tell on the days we had those recruiters in the clinics that we were able to recruit more participants,” Vaughan said.

As women arrived for prenatal visits, the recruiters approached them in a friendly manner and explained the purpose of the underlying study was about preterm births, “an issue that has affected many of them personally,” Vaughan said, which likely made them more willing to participate.

The recruiters were respectful of other priorities the women had, such as demands on their time or lack of transportation, and offered flexible alternatives, such as emailing or texting questionnaires to them rather than having them fill out the forms during their clinic visits.

“Treating people with respect helped a lot,” Vaughan said. “It’s important to remember you need to be respectful of their time, you need to be respectful of their priorities and needs. Being able to provide flexibility was really important”

The women received $30 gift cards at each visit, an incentive that helped recruit and retain many.

The recruiters also were careful to establish good working relationships with the clinic staff and to recognize that medical care took priority over research.

By late in the research, 78% of the women were still participating, a rate that is considered unusually high, since declines in participation are common in medical studies.

Vaughan began the study when she was a researcher at Wayne State University before joining the College of Human Medicine in 2021.

“We want to share our successful recruitment strategies so that we and others can include more Black women and participants from other under-represented groups in future studies,” Vaughan said. “It’s important for understanding and mitigating health disparities,” she added, as well as for generalizing a study’s findings for generalizing a study’s findings for people of different backgrounds.