The lack of diversity among clinical trial volunteers is a serious problem. Individual sites, organizations, and groups across the United States have been teaming up to increase diversity for years, but the problem persists. Even for high-profile indications such as cancer, the percentage of participation by black volunteers is in the single digits, and participation by Hispanic and Asian volunteers is even lower. While awareness and recruitment campaigns continue to increase diversity at the national level, there are efforts that CROs and research sites can make at the local level in order to address this important need as well.


Recruiting minorities for clinical trials is one of today’s most important research topics.

An Important Problem

People outside the field of clinical research don’t always understand why diversity in clinical trials is important. It is not a matter of “political correctness” or simply wanting people from different ethnic backgrounds to feel included. Diversity is critical in clinical research because medications can affect people differently based on physical attributes that vary between ethnicities. A drug that is developed with the help of overwhelmingly white trial participants may have side effects for non-white patients that will not be detected in those trials. In addition, the effectiveness of the drug for minorities will be difficult to measure based on trials populated primarily by white volunteers.

Why the Lack of Diversity

Pinpointing the reasons for the lack of diversity in clinical trials is an important first step toward solving the problem. Some of those reasons are easy to see in raw statistics: People in minority groups are more likely than whites to have low income, limited transportation, and less education, especially about health care. Those obstacles, when combined, make it easier to see why the percentage of minority volunteers in clinical trials is so low. They also lead to an additional problem: experts point out that doctors, knowing about those statistics, often neglect to tell minority patients about trials in their area. But research suggests that this is a mistake, and that many of those patients would be willing and able to volunteer for trials if they were informed about them.

Reversing the Trends: Education

So, how can your organization do its part to recruit a greater diversity of volunteers for its clinical trials? As with any campaign, education is a key component. But the previously mentioned findings about doctors recommending clinical trial participation to minorities at lower rates suggest that part of the education component should be directed toward doctors, not simply potential volunteers. When doctors understand the great need for more minority volunteers, they will become more active partners with research organizations in spreading the word among those volunteers and getting them involved with clinical trials.

Of course, educating volunteers themselves is also a key component, and your site or organization can do that with specially designed print materials that explain the need for diversity in clinical research. When displayed at medical offices and distributed in the community, these materials are powerful tools for attracting the attention of people who may never otherwise have thought of volunteering for a trial.

Reversing the Trends: Recruitment Strategies

One of the best ways to improve diversity in the short term, for individual trials, is to use a sortable national mailing list. Clinical List America’s mailing lists are sortable by many detailed criteria, including ethnicity, thanks to the information requested by opt-in surveys. With this powerful tool, your organization can identify potential volunteers in your area who are not only members of ethnic minorities, but who have also indicated that they would like to receive information about volunteering for clinical research.
There are many other strategies that your site can use to reach minorities and other specific demographics that are notoriously difficult to recruit (like teenagers and children), and Clinical List America has the experience and innovation to do it. Just get in touch with us and tell us about your recruitment needs, and we will help you create a strategy that uses today’s leading methods to achieve them. Our experts are constantly refining our most effective practices and keeping their pulse on technology to develop new ones, all in order to help your organization meet its recruitment quotas.

We appreciate the research published on the following websites, to which we referred for this article: