Thailand has encountered an imbalanced dentist distribution and an internal brain drain of dentists from public to private health care facilities. To tackle these challenges, the compulsory service (CS) program, which has been initially implemented for physicians, was extended for dentists.
This policy and workforce document review describes the background, development, and policy implementation of the CS program in Thailand during the past three decades. Outcomes after policy implementation and future directions are also discussed. The information was gathered from the relevant policy and workforce documents available from 1961 to 2021.
In Thailand, junior dentists, specifically newly graduates, have to enroll in the CS program by working as oral health practitioners in public hospitals for at least 3 years. Dentists must pay a maximum fine of 400 000 baht (~ 12 571 USD) if they wish to skip the program. This fine is lowered according to the number of attending years in the program. CS program conditions are related to each university’s admission track. The CS enrolled dentists receive several financial and non-financial benefits, including educational, employment-related, and living provisions. Altogether, successive Thai governments have launched directive policies to increase dentist distribution in rural areas and their retention in public hospitals. These policies have been implemented in 3 stages: (1) increase production of new dentists, (2) allocation of newly dental graduates to public hospitals, and (3) provide benefits for working in public hospitals.
During the past three decades, several public policies have been implemented to improve dentist retention and distribution to public hospitals across Thailand, particularly in rural areas. The present CS program may not completely resolve the oral health inequalities because the dentist retention rate in public hospitals depends on multi-dimensional considerations. Further modifications on the CS program and future well-planned policies are needed.