2017 Internship Fellow Spotlight: Carolina Lemos

HRI Summer 2017 Internship Fellow, Carolina Lemos, tells us about her internship experience at the Municipal Health Office of Santa Maria da Vitoria in Brazil.


This summer I had the opportunity to participate in an individualized human rights internship with the Municipal Health office of Santa Maria da Vitoria. Let me start off by telling you guys a little about Santa Maria. Santa Maria is a small town in the state of Bahia, Brazil. I flew into Brasilia, which is the capital of Brazil, and then drove about seven hours to finally arrive in town.

The town has a population of around 42,000 people, with an extensive amount of the population struggling financially. The health care system in Brazil is called SUS which stands for Sistema Unico de Saude, and provides all citizens with access to health care.



At this point you may be wondering how I ended up in this town, and there’s a story behind why I wanted to intern here specifically. My mother and her family are from Santa Maria. I visited Santa Maria da Vitoria a few years ago, when I was fifteen years old, and had the displeasure of falling ill during my stay. It was during the Christmas holiday break and the only health facility available was the public municipal hospital. My experience showed me the lamentable condition of this hospital and what I imagine many other hospitals in rural towns are like. After learning a lot about the health care system in Latin America through my human rights classes I thought it would be a great experience for me to reach of to the people who dealt with health of the town and ask if they would allow me to volunteer as an intern.


I am a premed student, and one of my biggest hopes as a doctor is to spend a significant portion of my time advocating for people’s human right to health and improving the quality of health care to the level it should be in all areas around the world. I thought this opportunity would be a great start.

I proposed this internship to the Municipal Health Office of Santa Maria da Vitoria, which had never done something like this before. They were happy to have me there and tried to accommodate me as best they could.


Here is the Municipal Health Office where the Secretary of Health of the town holds meetings, attend to the people of the town, and makes health related decisions. The building is also home to the Antencão Basica center which translates to basic health attention. I wasn’t centered at the health office, but instead was able to rotate between the health facilities of the town.

Since my experience five years ago, there have been some changes to the way health care is approached in Santa Maria.  A new medical facility called Unidade de Pronto Atendimento (UPA) has been implemented. The UPA was put in place to be the first place a person would go to when there is an emergency. At the UPA the medical professionals assess the patient’s issue and either treat it there or refer the person to the hospital for bigger emergencies.


Additionally, there are more postos de saude familiar (PSFs) which are facilities for the health of the family where they can go for smaller problems and routine visits. These PSFs are in various parts of the town to serve different neighborhoods. The combination of these three facilities has been improving the access and quality of health care here in Santa Maria da Vitoria.


The main problem in these health care facilities is lack of materials and medical professionals. I was able to alternate between these health care facilities, working alongside doctors, nurses, and the administrating team of the hospital. . My role within the internship organization was to be an additional help to these people. When I was with the nurses I would help bring the materials to the patients, help them change wound dressings, care for the newborns and take measurements. When with the doctors, I would take on a more observing approach. Since I am interested in medicine they would often explain to me what they were doing or what the illness the patient was experiencing was. I would act as an extra hand to make things go even more smoothly.

As I observed and listened to the doctors, I learned how to work with different kinds of patients. I learned that medicine in impoverished areas involves much more than just treating the patient. It also means educating the patient. I learned that you need to have patience and explain things you may find obvious. I learned how important it is to take into consideration the patient’s living situation and monetary condition. As my internship came to an end I became more certain than ever that I want to pursue a career in medicine, advocating for human right to health care. My passion for this field was truly broadened with the incredible experience of interning in Santa Maria da Vitoria.