Research, education and patient care are important missions of academic health centres and their respective teaching programmes. Yet, teaching hospitals struggle with ways to effectively support quality research initiatives. These issues are even more pronounced in countries with developing medical education systems where inconsistencies in training programme structure and quality, along with the lack of uniformity in the backgrounds and experience of the faculty, can hinder meaningful research activities. Hospital leaders recognized the need to inculcate both the desire and the ability to conduct quality research into every postgraduate training programme. Given the lack of global benchmarks, the institution developed and implemented the FIRST Programme (Focus on International Research Strategy and Teaching), a hospital-wide approach to research strategy training and support in 2010–2012. Over a 3-year period, the number of resident and faculty research activities has more than doubled. The types of research studies have also changed over the past few years, with an increase in basic science and randomized clinical trials. Our experience with implementing an institution-wide research initiative has been quite encouraging. Through leadership commitment, the institution has witnessed substantial increases in both trainee and faculty scholarship over a 3-year period.