Health research, including basic science and clinical research, is fundamental to establish the scientific foundations of clinical care and to translate basic research findings into tangible benefits for the healthcare system [1, 2]. Sustained generation and unhindered dissemination of the findings of quality health research, in addition to advancing the knowledge of disease processes , are critical components of evidence-based medicine [1–3], for informed changes to public health policy [1, 4] and to enhance researchers’ critical appraisal skills [1, 4].
Despite the enormous benefits derived from health research , there is a health system-wide discrepancy between the realisation of the need for health research and the realities of its implementation [3, 5]. This gap has been attributed to several factors, notably an insufficient number of adequately trained researchers (e.g., academic physicians, clinical researchers, physician-scientists, clinical investigators and physician-investigators) [6, 7]. Previous studies have also suggested obstacles at the individual level, including gender [1, 5], time constraints [1, 5, 6], a lack of interest [3, 5], poor awareness [6, 8] and inappropriate remuneration [1, 7]. System-related disincentives, including poor research funding [1, 7], inadequate research mentorship [9–11], insufficient statistical support [1, 3, 6], poor research training [2, 8], restricted access to literature [1, 6], a lack of autonomy  and bureaucracy/politics , also constitute major barriers to the participation in research and a future career in academic medicine. Specifically, males more frequently participate in research and, by extension, have greater prospects for future careers in academic medicine . In Nigeria, there is a pro-male bias in enrolment into residency training programmes [13–15], and this has favourable implications for residents in terms of participation in research [1, 5] and choice of post-residency research careers . Non-utilisation of research findings by healthcare providers and health policy makers, either because of impeded access [1, 4] or limited understanding of their clinical or health policy implications [1, 4], has a negative impact on future research effort and output.
Globally, there exists a marked North–South divide, favouring the North, in terms of the awareness, output and implementation of health research . Consequently, particularly in developing African countries where the output of health research is comparatively low [16, 17], modifications of clinical practice and health policy are often inappropriately based on imported research results. Therefore, to resolve this situation, there is an urgent need for research that identifies the indigenous determinants of participation in health research that affect all levels of health research, not just physician researchers. To partly fulfil this need, we conducted an exploratory cross-section pilot survey in which we sought to identify which factors experienced before/during residency at the individual and system levels influenced trainee resident participation in health research across three tertiary training centres in Enugu, south-eastern Nigeria. Our results will assist undergraduate and postgraduate medical educators in Enugu, as well as those in similar settings elsewhere in Nigeria and other countries. The findings should also stimulate similar research in Nigeria, and other developing countries, to replicate at least some of our findings, and also identify other factors that may be specific to other academic institutes in other countries.