This study aims to identify and analyze the memories and social representations of the public health system developed by its users, in two different health care networks: hospitals and primary health care units. It has a qualitative approach, based on the Theory of Social Representations and Memories. 30 interviews were selected, 15 from each health care network, collected in 2005, and it was used the thematic-categorial content analysis. The negative elements of the public health system, which are represented by the difficulties in obtaining assistance, the lack of ability of the professionals, the inappropriate health care and it’s environment and the insufficient financial and material resources, they overlap the positive elements. Despite the perception of inappropriate care, a good service is highlighted when the interviewed made use of the public health service. In conclusion, the political, structural and professional aspects are evaluated mostly negatively by the users and this has been problematic through the public health systems from history, looking as situations that are probably originated from the past and have been continued. Thus, the nurse may be able to play the role of knowledge propagator to the users, empowering the social participation in political decisions for the health system.