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Thailand increases oral health research training capacity

Although oral diseases are largely preventable, they are among the most non-communicable diseases globally, and they disproportionately burden disadvantaged communities, specially within low- and middle-income nations. There is a shortage of dentist-scientist all around the world, especially in developing countries, such as Thailand.

Clinical Research Workshop
Thailand is an active member of the Association of South East Asian Nations interested in creating oral health research capacity and training. While governmental efforts towards increasing clinical providers have been successful, there has been a gap in the training and education required to create a cadre of dental researchers beyond clinical expertise, who would advance research that impacts public health.

For over 20 years, the University of Washington, School of Dentistry, has partnered with Thammasat University and Khon Kaen University to train a new generation of oral health researchers who have impacted the dental public health arena in South East Asia. As a result of this partnership, these institutions created the Fogarty International Center Training Program in Clinical, Public Health and Behavioral Oral Health Research for Thailand with assistance by the Fogarty International Center (FIC) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) (Grant Funding: D43 TW007768 and D43 TW009071, PI: DeRouen). By training over 200 trainees from 18 countries, this training site has brought Thailand to the international forefront of oral health research.

The training involved a combination of short, medium, and long-term pathways. Short-term workshops were five days and included general and scientific principles of planning and carrying out clinical research projects, clinical research, study design, statistical concepts, behavioral models, and ethical issues. Medium-term training involved attending the six-week Summer Institute in Clinical Dental Research Methods held at University of Washington in Seattle. The program was designed to provide a short but intensive research training program for dental school faculty and professionals interested in clinical research. Long-term training was designed to augment and strengthen oral health research pathways in existing PhD programs in Oral Science at Thammasat and Khon Kaen Universities. Trainees with English language skills spent one year in Seattle at University of Washington to a) take courses in biostatistics, epidemiology, or health services at UW School of Public Health, b) worked with one or more UW mentors on research projects they were developing to enhance their learning experience, or c) plan and finalize a dissertation research project that they would work on over the period of the next year in Thailand.

With the purpose to provide a perspective on the impact of the FIC and NIDCR support on creating training and research capacity in South East Asia, we conducted a survey of former trainees to inform us on their perception on how the Fogarty International Center Training Program in Clinical, Public Health and Behavioral Oral Health Research for Thailand impacted their professional paths. Most participants (74.3%) were enrolled in short-term training, 17.6% enrolled in medium-term training and 5.4% enrolled in long-term training. The perceived impact on how these training types influenced trainees at personal and at professional levels was assessed through open-ended question. Three major themes emerged, and responses were not exclusive: a) Improved knowledge of research methods (90.2%); b) Better equipped to teach and supervise students’ thesis and research (12.2%); and c) Connections made with other attendees (14.6%).

As a result of this unique training partnership, Thai universities have become the regional resource for oral health research in South East Asia. We believe this to be one of many models to be used to increase research capacity in global oral health for other low- and middle-income countrie

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