Keynote — A New Kind of Heroism

Speaker: Jessica Zitter, MD

Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter always wanted to be a hero doctor. But her definition of heroism changed profoundly after years of practice in the ICU. As a pulmonary and critical care physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, Dr. Zitter has had a front row seat to the public health crisis that touches all of us: the default use of technology on the dying, with its consequent suffering. She describes what she calls the “end-of-life conveyor belt,” in which mechanization and protocol override personal preference and collaborative decision-making. This rote application of technology is robbing many people of the right to live the way they choose, right up until the end. We find ourselves in a perfect storm: the age-old drive to preserve life meets an unprecedented technological capacity to extend it—or at least keep the heart beating. Dr. Zitter exposes the public health crisis from an insider’s perspective, taking us on the journey of her evolving relationship with medicine. She challenges and invites us–as patients, physicians, families, and healthcare professionals–to take a step back, take a deep breath, and enquire: what do we really want for ourselves, our loved ones, and those entrusted in our care when death comes? Sharing stories of her patients and colleagues, as well as her own inner struggles, Dr. Zitter shows us how we all might find a better path to the end of life.

Upon completion of the activity, learners will be able to:

• Describe how the medical model has shaped end-of-life.

• Identify suggestions for how to improve the end-of-life system.