Programa Saúde da Família (PSF - Family Health Program) appeared in the Brazilian scenario as a strategy to overcome an assistance model that is centered on disease and on individualized medical care. In this context, the agentes comunitários de saúde (ACS - community health agents) have been considered key actors in the implementation of policies related to the reorientation of the healthcare model. The objective of this study was to analyze the conceptions and perceptions on Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS - National Health System) and PSF that guide the actions of the ACS, and to reflect on their function and professional education. The work was based on quantitative and qualitative research. It was carried out in Cajuri (state of Minas Gerais) and all the ACS (n=11) who worked in the PSF were interviewed. The results demonstrated that most of the ACS (72.7%) lived in the community where they acted, had been working in the PSF for more than five years and followed up the recommended amount of families. Their main functions were home visits, active search and health education, which most of the time happened in an individualized way and focused on the reinforcement of medical aid and prevention of specific risks. In relation to qualification, 54.6% of the ACS received orientation before beginning the work and 81.8% participated in courses after they were already working. Only 27.3% of the ACS knew the concept of SUS and 36.4% showed appropriate understanding of PSF. These results demonstrate the need of larger efforts to improve the qualification of the ACS, aiming to enhance their understanding and knowledge of SUS and PSF principles. Thus, they will be able to act according to the guidelines of this system and to contribute effectively to its consolidation.
Community Health Agent; National Health System; Family Health Program; Professional Education