In the mid-1960s, Brazil had a mercantile-based medical system that limited free choice and, for many doctors, stood in the way of their dreams of professional excellence and justice. Some medical professionals began to envision an alternative structure for health care: the cooperative.

This was an unprecedented idea for the medical field in Brazil and it sparked a passion to encourage patient choice and foster close ties between patients and their doctors. For a small group of pioneering medical professionals, this mission changed the course of their careers, and, eventually, the course of health care. They knocked on door after door, explaining their concept. They overcame many obstacles including entrenched practices and structures.

Finally, through their dedication to a revolutionary idea, they were able to create UNIMED.

To implement their bold plan, the group established rules for the formation of a medical aid civil society. The goal was not to make money, but to allow free choice in medical providers and hospital services. In this system, medical associates own the cooperative and receive fair financial compensation in return for their professional dedication to their patients.

Today, UNIMED is a tremendous success. More than 110,000 doctors, 18 million users and 368 member cooperatives participate in UNIMED. Its story demonstrates that, under the banner of medical cooperation, the struggle to create health care that enhances the humanity of both doctors and patients can be effective and beneficial for everyone.

This story was translated and edited by Kathryn Kruse.