Provider Spotlight: Meet Carla Coutinho

Carla Coutinho of Boston Children's at Martha Eliot gets a greeting from a white llama.
A llama takes an interest in Carla Coutinho in Peru.

Before joining the clinical team at Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot, Carla Reis Coutinho was a pediatric nurse in Lowell, Massachusetts. Earlier in her career, she provided educational and career counseling for students who speak English as a second language.

What’s your job at Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot?

As a nurse care coordinator, I’m part of a team that provides both primary care and behavioral health care for patients with highly complex medical and psychosocial needs. With every patient, we strive to align the care we provide with that person’s needs and values.

Carla Coutinho and two other nurses, all wearing pink shirts at an outdoor health fair.
From left: Nurses Nicole Ciolfi, Alana Ponte-Capellan, and Carla at Martha Eliot’s 2019 health fair

What drew you to Boston Children’s at Martha Eliot?

Martha Eliot is located in the heart of Jamaica Plain and serves a very vibrant, diverse community. The clinicians and staff here are committed to a culture of respect, safety, and inclusiveness. I noticed this the first time I came to the clinic to interview for my job. As soon as I entered the building, I knew I wanted to work here. I still feel that way.

How has COVID-19 affected your patients’ physical and mental health?

The uncertainty of COVID-19 is causing stress, anxiety, and fear for both children and adults. While it’s difficult to link the virus directly to other specific health issues, we know that chronic stress often leads to sleeplessness, digestive problems, headaches, and behavioral issues. All of us here are monitoring our patients for symptoms like this so we can help them with coping strategies.

How has COVID-19 changed the way you interact with patients?

The pandemic has totally shifted the way we see many of our patients. Now we see most of them virtually instead of in person so we can minimize their risk of exposure. I talk with most of my patients on the phone or by video conference.

How do you create a sense of connection with your patients during a virtual visit?

The most important thing I can do in this situation is really listen to my patients. When I interact with them, they may bring up something I may have never realized was a problem. So, I make it a point to listen empathetically, even more so than when I see them in person. Once I understand their concerns, we can work together to come up with a solution.

Does race play a role in your patients’ health?

As health care providers, we understand the link between racial discrimination and adverse health outcomes. Many of the kids we treat at Martha Eliot have been exposed to poverty, discrimination, and community violence. We also know that racial minorities are more likely to experience certain health conditions like asthma, diabetes, and mental health issues. So we collaborate with patients and families, other health care providers, and outside organizations to close the gap in health care disparities.

Clinicians wearing masks hold Black Lives Matter signs outside of Martha Eliot Health Center
Carla and her colleagues take a knee in honor of the communities of color they serve.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the connections I have with patients. I always say, a patient may not remember their nurse’s name but they always remember how the nurse made them feel. It’s a good reminder to be empathetic and compassionate with every patient.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

We often see patients when they are vulnerable and in crisis. Sometimes the situation is expected, sometimes it’s not. Being with a patient or family when they’re at their lowest point is challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to support them when they really need support.

What’s something about you that might surprise your patients?

I was born and raised in Brazil. My family came to the United States 13 years ago and I didn’t know how to speak English at that time. I had to start high school all over.

If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be?

I would be a humpback whale. They have perceptive, insightful qualities that reflect my personality.

Carla Coutinho  in a hat and scarf, poses on a rock structure with a double rainbow in the sky behind her.
Carla enjoys a double rainbow in Iceland.

You have a day off – what are you doing?

I am probably studying because I’m working toward becoming a family nurse practitioner. But if I’m not studying, I like to spend time with my family and friends (from a safe social distance). If it weren’t for COVID-19, I’d be playing volleyball or planning my next trip.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot.

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