This study investigates heterogeneity in Thai doctors' job preferences at the beginning of their career, with a view to inform the design of effective policies to retain them in rural areas. A discrete choice experiment was designed and administered to 198 young doctors. We analysed the data using several specifications of a random parameter model to account for various sources of preference heterogeneity. By modelling preference heterogeneity, we showed how sensitivity to different incentives varied in different sections of the population. In particular, doctors from rural backgrounds were more sensitive than others to a 45% salary increase and having a post near their home province, but they were less sensitive to a reduction in the number of on-call nights. On the basis of the model results, the effects of two types of interventions were simulated: introducing various incentives and modifying the population structure. The results of the simulations provide multiple elements for consideration for policy-makers interested in designing effective interventions. They also underline the interest of modelling preference heterogeneity carefully. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.